A decade later, 9/11 search dogs still admired, studied for lasting effects - DVM
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A decade later, 9/11 search dogs still admired, studied for lasting effects


The lack of physical health problems in the deployed dogs may be attributed to the fact that most of them arrived to Ground Zero within two days after the World Trade Center fell, when the major risk factor for human pulmonary complications already had subsided. Still, Otto says ,"the difference between respiratory morbidity in the canine and human rescue workers was unexpected, particularly given the high incidence of respiratory signs in the people and the lack of respiratory protection in the dogs."

Some things the dogs have going for them that humans don't, though, is their resistance to clinical signs of asthma or reactive airway disease. Their longer nasal passages may have more effectively filtered particulate matter and toxins, Otto says.

On the behavioral front, it's more difficult to gauge how the dogs changed after their deployments, because so much depends on the handlers.

"If the dogs are having problems, the handlers are having problems and vice versa," Otto says. "These handlers and these dogs are so intertwined and interconnected, so naturally they are going to respond to each other."

There is no behavioral evidence of long-term depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, like some military dogs have suffered, though some of those dogs appeared to have short-term effects during their deployments.

Again, these effects can be attributed to the handlers, Otto says, explaining that the tone of the work at Ground Zero made it difficult to reward the dogs properly for their finds.

"When they find things, their normal response is to play, etc.," Otto says. "The handlers weren't able to provide the joyous celebration. Most of the dogs were trained to find live humans, and there weren't any to be found there. It was a real emotional challenge to be there and try to be celebratory of a find."

Handlers tried to tone down the praise for the dogs on site, then took them somewhere away from the main search site to simulate finds and offer rewards.

"On-site, the dogs had to deal with the constant intensity of people wanting them to work. When they are searching intensely, they need down time," she says. "They were pushing really hard, and we had to enforce some down time. When they're worn out, they don't smell as well and get injured more. There were all these machines moving big chunks of the pile, people everywhere, the smoke ...

"I can't imagine what the scent picture was for these dogs. To me, the smell was overwhelming," Otto recalls.

Many of the dogs suffered from dehydration and being overtired or over-stimulated, and cuts and scrapes were the top health problem on-site, but only four dogs of all those deployed at the World Trade Center required sutures, she says.

A total of about 300 dogs were called to duty after 9/11, Otto says. Some of the handlers did not respond to requests to participate in the study, she says, and some would not agree to a necropsy.

"These dogs are amazing. They're just true heroes. The people who train them and work with them—most of them are paying their own way. There's really just nothing like it," Otto says.

Still, the work of these dogs following the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil was priceless, Otto says.

"There is no way those remains would have been identified if the dogs had not been there," she says. "They are the most effective tool we have."

But their contribution to the cleanup process wasn't the only benefit the deployed dogs offered. They were inspirational to the first-responders.

"I have a picture of three firemen that were actually smiling because they were petting a dog. The rest of the time, firemen who were not smiling," Otto says. "The little bit of light the dogs provided—the hope, the comfort—that was a huge part of it.

"They are such a national resource and they're incredible. They really have inspired me to see what dogs can do—emotionally, physically, their ability to be trained. It changes your perspective to the capabilities dogs have."

The events after 9/11 helped bring to light the needs of search-and-rescue dogs, and Otto says veterinarians should work with handlers to develop preventive strategies for dehydration and make recommendations on training and nutrition. More research also should be devoted to the physical and mental demands required of search dogs, and Otto says she is working toward developing a physical working dogs center at Penn.

More information on working dogs and Otto's research can be found at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center's website at http://pennvetwdc.org/.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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