Fourteen search and rescue dogs have died
since their exposure to toxic rubble from the Sept. 11
terrorist attack - including eight from cancer,
according to a study by the University of Pennsylvania
School of Veterinary Medicine. But researchers believe
there is no connection between the deaths and the
chemicals they were exposed to.
Despite the study's findings, some of the owners
whose dogs have died still blame the toxic brew the dogs
immersed themselves in during the hunt for survivors and
"We can't find any link at this point that ties the
14 deaths to events of Sept. 11," said Dr. Cynthia Otto,
the study's lead researcher. "Some have passed away, but
the causes of death are no different than in the control
group. That is good news."
Otto's team, which has been monitoring the health of
97 dogs who worked at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and the
Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, did find
"significantly higher" antibodies in the search dogs in
the first year after the terrorist attack.
The elevated presence of antibodies, she explained,
showed the dogs had been exposed to foreign substances
that pressed their immune systems into higher gear.
Although Otto was heartened to find the vast majority
of dogs were in good health, given the exposure and the
blood changes in the first year, questions remain about
possible long-term effects.
"I don't think these dogs are completely out of the
woods," she said. "That is why we need to monitor these
dogs until the end of their lives - for the dogs' sake
and for people's sake. If there is a problem in the dogs
down the line, there is a good chance a similar problem
could be found in people."
Among the canine deaths was Servus, a 12-year-old
Belgian Malinois police dog, who had to be carried out
on a stretcher from Ground Zero after he fell into a
hole face down, his snout and lungs filled with concrete
dust and ash. He died of pancreatitis, Otto said.
And Anna, a 4-year-old German shepherd who spent
three days crawling on her belly trying to scent any
survivors, was put down Aug. 2, 2002, ravaged by an
unusual bone-eating fungal infection.
"Anna had been to the vet two months before she was
deployed, and her blood work and X-rays were fine," said
Sarah Atlas, a New Jersey emergency medical technician
and Anna's handler. "I know the university did
everything they could to help her, and they say that
Anna was probably genetically predisposed to the
disease, but in my heart I know what I feel."
John Gilkey, a Maryland firefighter, lost his
10-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever, Bear, to
hepatitis last September. The dog's liver tests were not
normal before the eight nights he spent on the World
Trade Center pile, and blood tests and a biopsy showed
disease soon afterward.
"I was surprised," Gilkey said, when he got the
medical results. "But to be perfectly honest, I don't
think Bear was made sick by the World Trade Center."
Fighting back emotion, Gilkey added, "Bear and I had 21
months together after the diagnosis. I miss him
Dr. Philip Fox of Manhattan's Animal Medical Center,
who has been monitoring the health of 30 New York City
police dogs who worked at the World Trade Center, agreed
with Otto's findings.
"These dogs have not been inundated by suspicious or
debilitating diseases that we were afraid might occur,"
"They all had lung irritation, eye irritation and
coughing in the first few weeks, but they seem to be
clinically healthy almost three years later, except for
a couple of animals who died of cancer that would be
expected, given their age and breed."
Originally published on August 22,