Bretagne (pronounced “Brittany”), a Golden Retriever who worked at Ground Zero in September 2001, trying in vain to find survivors after the attacks on the World Trade Center, died today. She was 16 years old.
She is believed to have been the last survivor of the 100 search-and-rescue dogs deployed there.
“She had lived longer and accomplished more than anybody,” Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department spokesman Capt. David Padovan told the New York Daily News.
As Bretagne made her final trip to the vet, firefighters lined up along the walkway, saluting her.
Her body was draped with a flag as it was transported to Texas A&M University, where a necroposy (an autopsy for animals) will be performed to study the effects of working at Ground Zero.
‘New Yorkers Stopped in Their Tracks to Thank Her for Her Service’
To celebrate her 16th birthday in September 2015, Bretagne was flown with her pet parents from their home in Cypress, Texas, to New York City, where she was treated to a party in her honor hosted by Barkpost.
“Everywhere Bretagne went,” BarkPost noted in a video, “New Yorkers stopped in their tracks to thank her for her service.”
In September 2014, Bretagne and Denise returned to the World Trade Center for the first time in 13 years.
“Seeing this kind of took my breath away a bit,” Denise told TODAY.com at the time. “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 had welcomed Bretagne as a puppy in 1999. When Denise found out 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. 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 two weeks. Along with the other search-and-rescue dogs, she became depressed when she found only human remains. To cheer the dogs, some workers buried themselves in the rubble so the dogs could discover someone alive.
Denise said her most memorable experience occurred as she and Bretagne waited in the staging area.
“Searchers would come by to pet her and to thank her, and would tell us their stories,” she told TODAY.com. “So it became an unexpected role of therapy dog. That’s what, among the other things, sticks out to me the most.”
After Ground Zero, Bretagne worked at several other major disaster sites, including New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. She officially retired when she was 9, but continued to work as a service dog at an elementary school, helping students with learning disabilities by being their audience as they read aloud to her.
“She still has this attitude of putting her paw up and saying, ‘Put me in, coach!’” Denise told TODAY.com. “She absolutely loves it.”
As Bretagne’s health deteriorated, her pet parents created a bucket list for her. One of the items they scratched off was bringing Bretagne to the elementary school so she could say goodbye to the students she had helped.
Rest in peace, beautiful Bretagne. Thank you so much for your service.
Grab a tissue or 10 and watch this touching video by Barkpost that documented “Bretagne’s Best Day” last September.
Photo via Twitter