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K-9 heroes help partners cope with pain of 9/11

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K-9 heroes help partners cope with pain of 9/11

Post  mermaid on Thu Sep 08, 2011 7:57 am

K-9 heroes help partners cope with pain of 9/11
By Laurel J. Sweet
Thursday, September 8, 2011 -

There is no starker reminder of the passage of 10 years since 9/11 than the faithful search-and-rescue dogs whose tails have ceased to wag.

Moxie, a 13-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever owned by Chelsea firefighter Mark Aliberti, is the only one still alive of six Massachusetts Urban Search and Rescue dogs who sniffed for survivors and casualties in the rubble of the World Trade Center for eight exhaustive days.

“She hangs out in my backyard now mostly. She’s creaky and she’s old, but she’s happy,” Aliberti said.

Moxie, who Aliberti, 46, of Winthrop retired at age 7, and her late teammate Tara, also a chocolate Lab, who died in June at the age of 16, are featured in “Retrieved,” photographer Charlotte Dumas’ new book memorializing the canine first-responders of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Tara died shortly after being feted at Symphony Hall by Robert De Niro and Morgan Freeman during a tribute to America. She was wearing her FEMA search-and-rescue vest when she died, said EMT Lee Prentiss, coordinator of the team’s 14 canine handlers and eight search-and-rescue certified dogs.

“There’s no way you can deny the love, the passion, the commitment that the handlers have for their dogs,” Prentiss said.

Dr. Cynthia Otto of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine treated search-and-rescue dogs at Ground Zero, and has led the national study on the event’s impact on their health. Of the 75 dogs deployed to hunt for victims’ remains, Otto said 40 percent died of cancer — approximately the same percentage as a control group of search dogs who weren’t deployed.

“It’s been really amazing that the dogs have fared so well,” Otto said.

And not just the dogs. Otto said their handlers coped better mentally after 9/11 than first responders who weren’t partnered with canines.

“I think the dogs were the only thing that kept people going at Ground Zero,” Otto said. “You’d actually see their faces change when a dog walked by.”

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