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She’s the Only Surviving 9/11 Rescue Dog. So They Gave Her the Perfect Day For Her Birthday

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Bretagne is the last surviving member of the K-9 search-and-rescue team to have worked among the rubble of the twin towers after the 9/11 attacks. She turned 16 in 2015, and, thanks to the kindness of several special people who wanted to show their appreciation, she got to celebrate in spectacular style.
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Bretagne, which is pronounced “Britney,” belongs to Denise Corliss from Cypress, Texas. Bretagne is a beautiful golden retriever, and she and Corliss worked with hundreds of other rescue dogs that tragic day, scouring Ground Zero. It was soon evident to them, however, that the operation was more about recovery than rescue.
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As if anybody needed reminding, the world was shaken when a cluster of coordinated terrorist attacks struck the United States on September 11, 2001. It was part of a plan engineered by Al-Qaeda zealots to target symbolic buildings and cause an unprecedented loss of life.
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Two hijacked planes flew directly into the World Trade Center in New York, and another hit The Pentagon in Washington D.C. A forth plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after its brave passengers fought the hijackers for control. The 9/11 attacks left a total of 2,996 people dead.
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In circumstances like this, search and rescue dogs are an important part of finding survivors and recovering victims. Their incredible sense of smell can pick up things that human rescuers might miss or are incapable of detecting. Indeed, many people owe their lives to the efforts of these canny canines.
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But not every dog is suited to search-and-rescue work; it takes certain personality traits and rigorous training on the part of both the canine and their human handler. Ideally trained from an early age, the dogs are expected to excel at obedience, tracking, agility, and socialization – just like Bretagne.
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Corliss spotted Bretagne in 1999 and knew almost at once that the retriever had the right personality for the job. Indeed, as a pup, Bretagne was assertive enough to squeeze past eight other littermates to meet her potential new human. “That kind of pushy behavior helped her be the persistent don’t-give-up-style of working dog that I needed later,” Corliss told CNN.
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The rest is history; Corliss and Bretagne joined Texas Task Force 1 (or TX-TF1) in 2000, a group of highly trained search and rescue professionals specialized for working in urban disaster environments. Bretagne was just two years old when she and Corliss were called upon to respond to the September 11 attacks.
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In fact, the heroic pair were part of the relief group called in to replace the first 9/11 response team, giving them some time to rest. Both woman and dog worked diligently, and almost non-stop, searching Ground Zero for 12 hours a day. Corliss said the teams were lucky if they got four hours of sleep.
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But search and recovery wasn’t the only way Bretagne helped in the disaster’s aftermath. “You’d see firefighters sitting there, unanimated, stone-faced, no emotion, and then they’d see a dog and break out into a smile,” Cindy Otto, a vet who looked after the rescue dogs on site, told the New York Daily News.
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“Those dogs brought the power of hope. They removed the gloom for just an instant,” Otto said. Corliss also reported about a time Bretagne, expertly trained in obedience, ignored an order to come back; instead the dog instinctively went to comfort an upset firefighter.
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“It was like she was flipping me the paw,” Corliss told the New York Daily News. “She went right to that firefighter and laid down next to him and put her head on his lap.” Heroes in every sense of the word, the pair worked several disaster sites after 9/11, including hurricanes Rita, Katrina and Ivan.
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Corliss and Bretagne left TX-TF1 in 2009, but they spent a couple of years doing search and rescue work at their local fire department. She retired completely at nine years of age, but you can’t keep a good dog down; Bretagne took up swimming at 13 to help with her stiffening joints.
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“It makes a huge difference,” Corliss told Today. “She started doing the stairs again. Then we started focusing on ways to keep her mentally active, and it turns out that helping kids with their reading in school is great for that. It helps her as much as it helps them.”
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In 2015 the NY-based, canine-themed content site BarkPost heard Bretagne’s 16th birthday was approaching and wanted to do something very special for the golden retriever. Bretagne was called to New York again, but this time it was for an altogether more cheerful reason.
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“To celebrate her birthday and thank her for her incredible service, we were honored to team up with the dog-lovers at 1 Hotels to bring this New York City hero and her mom back to the city for the ultimate Dog’s Best Day,” BarkPost wrote on their YouTube channel.
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It was the day Bretagne had always deserved for her service. She received a huge welcome at the hotel, and she was taken to her suite where she was fed gourmet burgers and showered with toys. Of course, she also loved her doggie-treat gift bag.
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Bretagne’s gifts included a “Bone to the Park” Tiffany & Co. dog charm, given during a playtime in the park’s fountains, and a beautiful birthday cake to celebrate her special day. “People we met on this trip were very emotional and very nice to us,” Corliss told Today. “People were hugging her, and some were crying.”
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A cobblestone was also added to the 9/11 memorial to honor Corliss and Bretagne’s hard work, and Hotel 1 donated $1,000 to help TX-TF1 train more search and rescue heroes. “I’m just so grateful for everything people did for us — and for Bretagne still being here with me,” Corliss said to Today.
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“I know I’m on borrowed time in a sense because of her age, but I’m so grateful that she’s still here and we’re still having such a good time together,” Corliss said. Both dog and handler deserve all the pampering they can get; they’ve definitely earned it.

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