Bretagne, one of the few remaining 9/11 search and rescue canines, returned to the World Trade Center site with her handler Denise Corliss on the 13th anniversary of the attack.
"It's always a difficult time," Corliss told NBC's Tom Brokaw in an interview last Thursday. "It hasn't gotten any easier year to year."
Referred to as a last resort, Bretagne's job was to search for survivors behind workers in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
"We would search an area, and I would report back whether we had found anything or not," said Corliss. "And, if we did not, they would come in and remove that area of the pile. It was concerning because you wanted to make sure you had a thorough search before they moved that part of the pile."
|Canine handlers often have very close relationships with their canine search partners. Here, Denise Corliss shares some ice cream with her dog, Bretagne, during a deployment debriefing meeting.|
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Bretagne and Corliss also appear in Bud Force's book Texas Task Force: Urban Search and Rescue. Describing what it takes to become a search and rescue dog, Force says the first thing is breed, although specific breeds are more a guideline than a necessary requirement for search dogs.
"There are no hard-and-fast rules as to what breeds make the best search and rescue canines, but it is generally accepted that certain breeds regularly produce dogs that are better suited for a life of working rubble," said Force.
In fact, FEMA produces annual statistics of which breeds successfully make it through its extensive testing regimens and become certified rescue dogs. Labradors, shepherds, retrievers, and other hunting breeds often are among those that make the cut. However, handlers also used pit bulls and rat terriers effectively during the World Trade Center response after 9/11.
Genetic makeup also is important, according to Force.
"Canines in the search and rescue field are asked to perform a very difficult set of skills, one that few dogs are capable of performing," Force writes.
During search assessments, dogs must be able to search two rubble piles, each 20,000 square feet, locating numerous victims. Once a dog has made it to this level and passed a number of other assessments, it moves on to advanced screening and testing, which includes finding six victims in three massive rubble piles in less than an hour with limited visual commands from the handler.