Last surviving FEMA Search & Rescue Canine from 9/11 passes quietly

Published: Jun. 6, 2016 at 8:05 PM CDT
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Sixteen-year-old Bretagne (pronounced Brit-nee), the last known FEMA Search & Rescue Canine who served at Ground Zero, has died peacefully in Cypress, Texas.

She was a remarkable canine partner who deployed with her handler Denise Corliss and other members of Texas Task Force 1 (TX-TF1) to the site of the World Trade Center for 10 days in 2001. A Golden Retriever, Bretagne was 2 years old and newly certified as a FEMA Search and Rescue canine when she deployed with the Texas urban search and rescue team to the worst terrorism incident in U.S. history.

At age 15, Bretagne and Corliss returned to New York City to visit the 9/11 Memorial Museum and participate in an interview with NBC News’ Tom Brokaw.

During her incredible career with TX-TF1, Bretagne responded to nearly a dozen other disasters, including Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ivan.

Bretagne retired from formal search work at age 9, but continued to serve others as a goodwill ambassador for her local fire department and as a reading assistance dog at an elementary school near her home. She also became a star of a non-fiction book about senior dogs, met Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott, and late last year, met with former President George H.W. Bush at his Presidential Library in College Station, TX.

In 2014, Bretagne was nominated for the American Humane Association “Hero Dog Award” and received the red carpet treatment during a ceremony in Hollywood, CA.

She also gained worldwide media attention as she celebrated her 16th birthday last year with a Sweet 16 birthday bash in New York City. Watch the video of Bretagne’s Best Day.

Bretagne was 8 weeks old when she met Corliss, a volunteer firefighter with the Cy-Fair Fire Department, who was seeking a special dog to train for disaster work. Soon Bretagne and Corliss were fast friends. When Bretagne was 12 months old, she and Corliss began formal training with Texas Task Force 1 to become a FEMA-certified canine team. Bretagne’s drive, determination and personality were well-suited to her career as a Search and Rescue dog.

A teammate wrote this of Bretagne, “If you ask anybody whoever knew or trained with Bretagne, they would tell you ‘Oh she just loves me!’. That’s the kind of dog she is, affectionate to everybody, and fiercely devoted, never takes her eyes off her handler. She has always taken her job as a search dog seriously, but herself not so much. Always ready for a belly rub, or a treat. In remembering her first deployment at the World Trade Center, there are images of her going to where she was directed to search, the unknown, the chaotic environment. But even then, she knew who needed the comfort of a dog, which firefighter needed to hold her close and stroke her fur.”

Bretagne had a long-term relationship with the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, where her namesake, Bretagne 2, was trained as a diabetic alert dog for an individual with severe Type 1 diabetes.

As a feature about her 16th birthday said: “To Bretagne and all of the working dogs who give so selflessly to help humans around the world, thank you.”