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Utah Rescue Dogs Part of World Trade Center Follow-Up Study
By Elizabeth Neff, The Salt Lake Tribune, June 29, 2004

It has been almost three years since Utahn Nancy Hachmeister and her German Shepard, Ivey, searched through the rubble of the World Trade Center in New York for survivors.

But now researchers are using medical technology designed for humans to see whether Ivey and other rescue dogs used after Sept. 11 might pay a price for their service.

Sniffing for survivors through smoke, dust, jet fuel, and asbestos exposed the dogs to known carcinogens that could lead to higher cancer rates, said veterinarian Liesa Stone. Working with the Iams Pet Imaging Center in Washington, Stone is taking MRI images of the dogs' head and nasal region to check their health as part of a five-year study.

Two of the 24 dogs taking part in the free imaging study, Ivey and a Labrador named Jake, live in Utah. A total of about 90 rescue dogs are also having their blood drawn and chest X-rays taken as part of the study in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania and the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation.

So far, 10 dogs that worked as part of the 9-11 disaster team have been found to have cancer. Among them is Rookie, a Michigan police dog with a tumor in his right jawbone that was discovered early enough to be removed.

Still, no definitive link between the dogs and their work at the World Trade Center has been established.

"You can't make any conclusions until the end of the study because statistically you have to look at everything the age of animals, breed, locations of cancer, the normal risk," Stone said.

Mary Flood of Bountiful and her 9-year-old Lab, Jake, flew to Virginia last year for an MRI.

"It's fabulous what they are doing," she said. "They've got a baseline now of how Jake is, and he's doing fine."

The research could lead to owners finding ways to help their rescue dogs avoid cancer in the future, whether through diet or otherwise, Flood said.

She and her dog will head to Boston in August to get Jake recertified as a Federal Emergency Management Agency search specialist dog, a task that includes tests of agility, obedience, and ability to find victims in rubble.

Hachmeister's Ivey -- the fourth rescue dog she has owned in more than 20 years of working with them -- is also feeling fine.

She called the study a good idea.

"If it helps me down the road with my next dog, then it's worth it to me," said Hachmeister of Bountiful.

Ivey's reward for a job well done, her owner says, is getting to play fetch and a game of tug of war with her favorite toy -- a ball attached to a rope.

"It's all a game for them," she said. "Some dogs work for food, some dogs like Ivey work for a ball, and she'll go all day."

Any rescue dogs involved in 9-11 can get a free MRI scan at the Iams center, even if they are not a part of the study.

Using MRI machines on dogs has enabled veterinarians to make better diagnoses in recent years, Stone said.

"Before, we didn't know dogs had strokes," she said. "Now with MRI we do know they have them."

Getting an MRI for your family pet can be expensive, ranging between $800 to $1,000. But it can show what might otherwise require several exploratory surgeries, Stone said.


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