I’m not sure who got more attention at the American Humane Association’s 10th Anniversary Tribute to Hero Dogs of 9/11, held at the National Arts Club on September 8: Whoopi Goldberg of ABC’s “The View” or AHA Spokesdog Rin Tin Tin, a 12th-generation descendant of the German shepherd puppy found on the battlefield in France on September 15, 1918. That original Rin Tin Tin became a model for military training programs for search and rescue dogs. He also achieved world fame as a film star, and sired a dynasty of movie dogs, including the descendant who starred in “The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin” TV show in the 1950s.
“Tonight we honor the 300 four-footed first responders at 9/11,” Goldberg said. “ I’d like to take the [rescue] dogs to Washington to remind people how these dogs need to be treated.” AHA President and CEO Robin Ganzert welcomed the guests, including first responders Patrice Klein, who is a veterinarian, and Sara Hobel, executive director of the Horticultural Society of New York. After dinner, Hobel told me: “On 9/11, I was director of Urban Park Rangers in Battery Park in charge of an enforcement division. That morning I had just dropped the kids off for school. I was told that a small Cessna [plane] had hit the World Trade Center …. I got out of my vehicle just as the second plane hit the tower. Policemen told me to watch out for falling bodies…. My job was to locate [my] officers and set up triage…. People came screaming, ‘I need my cat, my snake….’ Thousands had fled their apartments with their dogs but left other pets behind, and we had to arrange to help people get their animals.”
Hobel continued: “We deployed [staff] to help people evacuate. People were in a panic.” Her challenge was to convince the authorities that rescuing animals was as important as rescuing humans. Hobel said, “My argument was: ‘Do you want a 4-year- old whose gerbil died of starvation or thirst to mourn his pet all his life?’” Permission to rescue the animals was granted. Hobel and her crew worked for 72 hours, without relief, in the dark. “With flashlights we located the terrified animals,” she said. Then she paused. “This little yeshiva boy came [to us] with a box that had a slit in it. ‘Please make sure my salamander is kept wet,’ he cried. ‘I was given him to take care of during the holidays. I am responsible for him. You can’t let him dry out and die!’ We rescued 1,100 animals.”
Victoria Stilwell, national ambassador of the AHA, said, “The 300 dogs [at ground zero] represented the greatest [dog] mobilization force in the history of the United States. They went where it was impossible for humans to go. The Red Star 82-foot long mobile veterinary clinic and command center, which was rushed to New York City, delivered supplies for displaced pets, rescue harnesses for the police K-9’s working dogs, and [was] an on-site clinic for examination and decontamination.”
David Lim, a police lieutenant who is a Port Authority first responder, had most of the audience in tears by the end of his 9/11 account. “If there was someone to be found, [the dogs] would find them. Dogs have 220 million sense receptors. A dog can detect a drop of sweat in a gallon of water… can find human remains under a mountain of rubble. A dog’s sense of smell is linked to emotional memory,” Lim said. “If this emotional memory is aroused, imagine how stressful working through the rubble was.” Lim’s dog, Sirius, whose regular duty had been to patrol the towers, and whom he referred to as “my partner,” was the only dog to lose his life during the towers’ collapse. His water bowl was recovered and buried with him. Lim himself was buried under rubble for five hours and was one of only 20 people to be rescued.
At our table were: Dr. Max Gomez, a medical journalist for CBS, and Sharon Bush, whose daughter, Lauren Bush — a granddaughter of former president George H.W. Bush — married David Lauren, son of Ralph Lauren, on September 4.
The American Humane Association was founded in 1877. Its Red Star Animal Emergency Services program — which was established during World War I to tend to animals on the battlefields of Europe — deploys teams to the scenes of emergencies, such as the recent flooding in upstate New York and New Jersey. In 1940 the AHA established the “No Animals Were Harmed” monitoring program, keeping thousands of animals safe in more than 2,000 film and TV productions each year.
It was September 9, 2001. More than 1,000 congregants of Central Synagogue assembled in front of the Midtown Manhattan building, on Lexington Avenue between 54th and 55th Streets, to celebrate the dedication of the rebuilt sanctuary following an August 1998 fire that had consumed part of the building. Among the notables present were New York City’s Archbishop Edward Cardinal Egan; the Rev. Amandus Derr of St. Peter’s, A Lutheran church; Governor George Pataki; Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; Israel’s [consul general, Alon Pinkas; Rabbi Arthur Schneier of Park East Synagogue, and Rabbi David Lincoln of Park Avenue Synagogue. Cardinal Egan told the assembled, “I was dining with a friend when the fire broke out, and [remember] seeing [the synagogue’s rabbi, David] Rubinstein, running back to save a Torah, [telling me] at the time, ‘We saved what was most important.’”
As I listened to the cardinal, I remember thinking of then-New York City fire department chief, Peter Ganci. Earlier that year, Ganci — whom I met at another benefit — had described to me the “drown and fire” situation that nearly destroyed the 126-year-old landmark synagogue. He told me, “Rabbi Rubinstein kept asking me to go into the synagogue to see what was salvageable. I went in with the citywide chief of safety to make a quick survey. As we went up to the choir loft, part of the roof collapsed and we dove to safety into an enclosed stairway.”
Two days after the dedication, on September 11, Ganci, along with about 300 of his heroic firefighter “brothers,” would perish during the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center. Over the past decade, every time I passed the synagogue, and followed this year’s 9/11 commemoration, I remembered Ganci and his having — as he told me — “gone beyond regulations,” to help Rubinstein rescue the Torah scrolls.