INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) - In the days and months following Sept. 11, more than 300 search and rescue dogs from around the country were sent to Ground Zero. 24-Hour News 8 anchor Karen Hensel was in New York with Indiana's search and rescue team with their story then, and again now. Ten years later, only 13 of the more than 300 dogs still survive. One of the surviving dogs lives here in Indiana.
We first met Kaiser ten years ago on the pile at Ground Zero. He was one of four dogs with Indiana Task Force One. They searched day and night for survivors and eventually remains of victims, finding peace for the families. Kaiser's handler Tony Zintsmaster says, "At Ground Zero we didn't find anybody alive. He did a number of untrained alerts. He would smell something, you could see he had scent by the way he was moving, would circle in and go down real slow then give a little lick."
The dogs went where it was impossible for humans to go. There was a moment going onto the pile when Kaiser stopped. Zintsmaster recalls, "I sent him on ahead of me and he stopped and came back to me and I thought that is odd and I resent him and he did it the same thing. So, I reached down to the ground and it was very hot. I wanted to respect his thoughts and move on around it and go to another and it wasn't a day later or that night they had a situation where they breached into an area and the flames came up and burned three of our guys."
Twelve hour shifts searching on the pile left them exhausted. Afterwards each day the dogs were decontaminated, shampooed and fed. Zintsmaster says, "By that point, I just had to find a place to lay down and sleep." We have the photo where Kaiser is given the couch and Tony sleeps sitting up in the chair.
Those first days of 911 in New York were dark. The dogs brought comfort, hope and peace for FDNY. He says, "There were times we would walk along the pile and this one particular person, he walks up and just gives him (Kaiser) a hug. I didn't say anything and he didnt say anything. He just needed to do it and I was glad I was there for him and we went on."
Kaiser searched tirelessly, even when hurt. They had been on the pile and returned. Zintsmaster says, "Then we got the call hey we need more dogs on the pile. So we got the dogs and headed back out. We were searching building seven." Kaiser came off the pile with blood running down his paw cut by one of the beams. He says, "We put four stitches in and wrapped him up. He was off that night and then he continued to work every night after that" He never stopped. Zintsmaster says proudly, "No, he didn't want to stop when it happened."
Even now, Kaiser doesn't want to stop. Zintsmaster describes, "The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. In his mind, he still wants to go. If we are going out the door to go to a task force training he tries to push the dog out of the way to want to go and I have to give him the news his job is to watch after mamma today."
Then he reflects, "Your partner is your partner. He spends his whole life with you. We train them from puppies. We teach them to be our partners. Then one day they die in your arms."
Kaiser was one of the younger dogs to be deployed to Ground Zero. He is now 13. The median age of the search and rescue dogs was five at the time.
Three other dogs from Indiana also deployed to Ground Zero. There was Scout, a yellow lab who went on to Hurrican Katrina and others. Then there was Freddy, also a yellow lab who died three years ago at 13 years old. And then Polly who was 1/2 border Collie and 1/2 golden retriever, Marti called her dog "an awesome partner".
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