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14 WTC Search and Rescue
By Heidi Evans, Staff Writer, New York
Daily News. August 22, 2004
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 remains.
"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 terribly."
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," Fox said.
"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."
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