This story was originally posted Sept. 11, 2015. Bretagne passed away on June 6, nine months after celebrating her 16th birthday.
For nearly two weeks in September 2001, a Golden Retriever search dog named Bretagne, then 2 years old, dug through the rubble of the World Trade Center, searching in vain for survivors.
Fourteen years later, Bretagne (pronounced “Brittany”), who is now the last survivor of the nearly 100 search-and-rescue dogs dispatched to Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks, celebrated her 16th birthday in style.
“After hearing Bretagne’s story and learning that her 16th birthday was coming up, there was no question in our minds that she deserved a Dog’s Best Day for the ages,” wrote Laura Hartle on BarkPost, which co-sponsored the celebration.
Bretagne and her pet parents, Denise and Randy Corliss, flew from their home in Cypress, Texas, to New York City late last month to enjoy that best day.
They stayed in a luxurious hotel suite courtesy of 1 Hotel Central Park. A two-layer birthday cake decorated with paw prints and biscuits was provided by Bubba Rose Biscuit Company. Bretagne was also awarded a Tiffany & Co. “Bone of the Dog Park” from Hudson River Park.
“Everywhere Bretagne went,” BarkPost notes in a video, “New Yorkers stopped in their tracks to thank her for her service.”
Last year, for the first time since 2001, Bretagne and Denise flew to New York and visited Ground Zero.
“Seeing this kind of took my breath away a bit,” Denise told TODAY.com in September 2014. “It’s so calm and peaceful now, unlike the chaos of before. After 9/11, everybody — all of us — felt such sadness. We all wanted to help. I just felt so honored that we were able to respond.”
The Corliss family has had Bretagne since she was a puppy. After Denise learned that civilians and their dogs can join federal emergency response teams to help out after a disaster, she and Bretagne began taking training classes together. She told TODAY.com she spent 20 to 30 hours a week training with Bretagne.
In 2000, she and Bretagne were accepted into Texas Task Force 1. Less than a year later, their very first deployment was to Ground Zero.
Bretagne worked 12-hour shifts for nearly 14 days. Like so many of the search dogs there, she became depressed when she found only human remains. To boost the dogs’ morale, some workers buried themselves in the rubble so the dogs could discover living people.
The human responders were more distraught than the dogs. At one point Bretagne walked over to a firefighter sitting on the ground. Denise called for her dog to come back, but Bretagne ignored her.
“I was surprised that she wasn’t listening to me — it was like she was flipping me the paw,” Denise told TODAY.com. “She went right to that firefighter and laid down next to him, and put her head on his lap.”
After Ground Zero, Denise and Bretagne worked at several other disaster sites, including New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. Bretagne officially retired at the age of 9, but continued doing volunteer work as a service dog at an elementary school. She helps students with learning disabilities by being their audience as they read aloud to her.
Last year, Bretagne was a finalist for the Americane Humane Association Hero Dog Awards.
“She still has this attitude of putting her paw up and saying, ‘Put me in, coach!’” Denise told TODAY.com. “She absolutely loves it.”
“Bretagne’s Best Day” was documented in a touching video by BarkPost that shows this old girl is still a puppy at heart. Be sure to have plenty of tissues handy.
Happy Sweet 16th, Bretagne!