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Amid the tragic events of September 11, "man's best friend" was there in time of crisis and I wish to acknowledge the acts of some of these four-legged heroes.


Some happy dog time for grieving victims

NEW YORK (AP) — There's always a dog on the ferry that takes victims' families to the place where the World Trade Center once stood.

And there's always someone on the boat who needs to pat the dog.

"You're so alive," murmured one mourner as she scooped up Annie, a small caramel-and-white dog, on the way to the site of so many deaths.

Annie is one of several dozen dogs that bring smiles to tear-streaked faces, comfort to stressed-out workers and companionship to distressed children at a center where victims of the World Trade Center attacks come for help.

The dogs, leashed and accompanied by their handlers, also work in other areas near the family center: the desks where death certificates are issued, a day-care center, the lines for rent and food money, the rooms where chaplains and psychologists offer counseling.

The animals provide a simple, happy antidote to grief and anxiety. If you pat a dog, the dog will like you; it's really that simple.

There's also a physical benefit: Studies show that when people interact with animals, it lowers their blood pressure and heart rate, said psychologist Stephanie LaFarge, senior director of counseling at the ASPCA.

"You wouldn't expect to see dogs in a place where you come to get death certificates, but it gives people the feeling that it can't be all that bad here if there are dogs here," LaFarge said.

One day last week, a woman left the center weeping and a chaplain asked if she wanted to pat a dog. The woman nodded, and Sailor, a calm and solid Portuguese water dog, went to work.

Later, Sailor lay down while two brothers, 2 and 3, fed her goldfish crackers, prattled and patted her black fur.

"This is the most rewarding thing I've ever done," said Sailor's handler, Jean Ervasti, who lives in Brooklyn and has a doctorate in education.

Nearby, Minnie, a tiger-striped mutt with a wolflike snout, stopped to be patted by a middle-aged woman. "My own dog's been acting out lately," the woman told Minnie's handler.

"Do you know why the dog is acting out?" Minnie's handler asked.

"My husband is missing," the woman calmly responded.

Across the street, some 20-something volunteers from AmeriCorps took a lunchtime break with the dogs. Like many workers spending long hours helping victims, the Americorps volunteers say the dogs help them get through the day.

"People just drop what they're doing and get down on their knees and start talking doggie talk: 'Oooh, you're so cute,' " said Kelley Wall, 24.

"For that brief moment that you're playing with them, they make you forget," added Carey Gibbons, 20.

Cops, firefighters and soldiers also love playing with the dogs.

"It's OK for them to be soft and goofy and nurturing to a small 12-pound spaniel," said Annie's owner, Elizabeth Teal.

The dogs, whose owners are volunteers, range from mutts to purebreds. All come from organizations such as the Delta Society, the Good Dog Foundation, Therapy Dogs International and Thera-Pet, which train dogs to work in nursing homes, hospitals and centers for special-needs children.

Few animals are accustomed to the intense conditions and constant attention of the family center, so their time is limited to two hours a day, a few days a week.

Even so, they're exhausted after absorbing all that emotion. Some must be carried out; others sleep all the way home.

The day after a sobbing firefighter's widow threw her arms around Jesse, a golden retriever, "Jesse's eyes were bloodshot," said the dog's owner, Mario Canzoneri. "He was lying down. He wasn't the same dog. You'd think that dog had pulled 100 pounds on a sled for a month."

Canzoneri, a plumbing contractor from Staten Island, is credited with getting dogs into the center. He started by bringing Jesse and his other dog, Jake, to parks and hospitals around Manhattan after Sept. 11 to give grieving New Yorkers some happy dog time.

Eventually, Canzoneri and the dogs stood outside the family center. An instant hit, they were soon invited in.

It worked so well that now, six dogs are there at any one time.

To avoid upsetting people with dog fears or allergies, the handlers have the dogs wait until someone makes eye contact or invites a pat. LaFarge says so far, there have been no complaints.

Handlers say the animals also have an uncanny ability to seek out those in need.

Fidel, a feathery brown-and-white confection of a pooch, approached a woman who was crying and she instantly picked him up.

"He really sensed my pain," said the woman, a single mother who lost her job in the disaster.

"Dogs speak a universal language," said Rachel McPherson, Fidel's owner."They break the ice. Good dogs are good medicine."


Guide Dog Leads Blind Man to Safety

WESTFIELD, N.J. (AP) - Mike Hingson, who is blind, made his way to safety from the 78th floor of the World Trade Center during the terrorist attacks thanks to Roselle, his 3 1/2-year-old yellow Labrador guide dog.

"Roselle did a good job," said Hingson, 51. "She stayed focused. We stayed to the side. We smelled a lot of jet fuel on the way down ... Some people had a lot of problems breathing."

The first airliner in the attacks struck the north tower where Hingson worked as a sales manager at Quantum ATL, a network data-storage company.

He and colleague Dave Frank rounded up six employees of another company who were there for a meeting, and pointed them toward the stairs. Then Hingson grabbed his briefcase, and he, Frank and Roselle headed down.

It took a half hour to walk down to the ground floor. Once outside, Frank told Hingson both towers were on fire. They ran as the south tower came down in a huge cloud, and they soon heard the north tower collapse.

They walked north for about 10 minutes, when Hingson called his wife, Karen, on his cell phone. He said simply, "It's me."

By 7 p.m., Hingson and Roselle had taken a train back home to New Jersey.

"She never hesitated," Hingson said as the dog lay by his feet. "She never panicked."

 
Omar Eduardo Rivera sits with his guide dog after they got safely down 70 flights of stairs in the World Trade Center.

A blind Colombian man accompanied by his faithful dog was led to safety by his female boss down 70 flights of a narrow emergency staircase of a tower of the World Trade Center after it was slammed by a hijacked plane. Seated with his golden Labrador retriever guide dog beside him, Omar Eduardo Rivera told Caracol television and radio on Thursday how two days earlier he fled down the stairs for more than an hour with his hand on the unnamed woman's shoulder. He unleashed the dog to let it escape, but with glass falling around them, the animal led him to an emergency exit and stayed by his side as a crowd of people descended the stairs to escape the building which collapsed soon afterward. Computer worker Rivera was in his office on the 71st floor of the one of the trade center's twin towers on Tuesday, his dog underneath his desk, when suicide hijackers crashed a jet into the 110-story building some 25 floors above him. "I stood up and I could hear how pieces of glass were flying around and falling," Rivera, said in a quiet voice in a peaceful garden somewhere in New York. "The dog was very nervous, and he ran off but came back and kept by my side. He didn't bark." At the emergency exit, his boss led him down the stairs. "I took hold of her arm. She went down on my right side and the dog on my left.

Police search through rubble with dogs at the World Trade Center tower collapse site in New York, Thursday, Sept. 13, 2001.  
  A rescue dog is given a drink of water during a rest break from searching through the rubble from the fallen World Trade Center towers in New York September 13, 2001. The World Trade Center towers collapsed September 11 after being attacked with hijacked commercial airliner
Officer Raymond Riveria of the Miami-Dade police department along with Nero, a bomb sniffing dog, go through unattended luggage near a ticket counter at the Miami International Airport, September 13, 2001. Security at the airport has been tightened as air carriers begin to return to the skies two days after the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  

  A black-and-white border collie named "Cowboy," a search canine for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, yelps anxiously from the top of the pile of rubble at the World Trade Center site in New York Friday, Sept. 21, 2001. The 100 FEMA dogs certified nationally as Canine Search Specialists "have a sense of smell so keen that they pick up scents in the tightest spots, where no equipment can go,"

Animal Shelters Seeing More Adoptions

Since the attacks on America, one local animal shelter has seen dramatic change, KMBC reported on Monday.

Animal Haven has seen a surge in animal adoptions. Shelter workers said that they are not sure if people are looking for stress
relief or companionship in adopting a new pet. But they said that they have never seen the number of adoptions so high around this time of year.

"People have come down looking for companionship. Maybe it's that extra hug we all need to have watching what has transpired in New York," Jen Johnson of Animal Haven said.

Animal Haven said that the number of bigger dogs leaving the shelter is phenomenal. Four dogs went home with families on Sunday.

Johnson said that people could be inspired by seeing video of rescue dogs in New York and Washington.