Why do we love dogs so much? Perhaps it is the unconditional love they show us with a wagging tail, a wet nose on the hand or a sloppy kiss on the cheek. They are steadfast friends providing constant companionship.
Yet the relationship between people and dogs goes far beyond this domesticated bliss. Service dogs support us in so many practical ways. A well-trained service dog can retrieve medication, answer a doorbell, pull a wheelchair, guide the blind, prevent falls and even call 911. Dogs go to war with us, support law enforcement and are essential for search and rescue operations. It is in these arenas where so many service dogs have made a name for themselves helping those in need of aid.
These are the true stories of three such canine heroes, service dogs who pioneered new capabilities and helped us during our darkest hours.
Mattie was a black Labrador retriever and the first dog ever trained to find traces of accelerants. During her six-year career with the Connecticut State Police, Mattie helped solve dozens of arson cases. Building on the experience of bomb-sniffing dogs, Mattie could detect chemicals in the parts-per-million range in a spot as small as a square inch and was 100 percent accurate – unlike the testing devices used before she entered service in 1986. In one famous case, she found traces of gasoline on the shoe of a landlord who had set his own apartment building on fire to commit insurance fraud.
Appollo was a German Shepherd in service with the K-9 unit of the New York Police Department, and one of the first dogs to learn search and rescue. As a stunned nation watched the September 11 terror attacks unfold, Appollo and his handler Peter Davis were at the World Trade Center site within fifteen minutes of the first attack. A fortunate fall into a pool of water prevented Appollo’s death from flames and falling debris. For his efforts and those of other search and rescue dogs at the scene, Appollo received the PDSA Dickin Medal, which is the highest award any animal can receive whilst serving in military conflict. Appollo also assisted with 1998 hurricane rescue operations in the Dominican Republic.
Aspen was a female Golden Retriever and part of the Miami-Dade County Canine Search and Rescue Unit for nearly five years. She helped find live victims and conducted body recovery in many disasters, including earthquakes in Armenia, Columbia, Hurricane Opal in the Florida panhandle, and the crashes of American Airlines Flight 965 in Buga, Columbia, and the Fine Air crash in Miami, Florida. Perhaps she is most well known for her work during search and rescue operations after the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma. Although deceased, she remains dear to the hearts of the Sunset Vet Clinic staff.
These three examples portray the best of all service dogs and why canines are truly man’s best friend.