Legacy of Last 9/11 Search Dog Lives on Through Sister and Handler in Texas
Introducing Bretagne’s baby sister, Finn.
Two decades after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the legacy of the last search dog who worked at ground zero lives on—through her beloved handler, her little sister, and the communities she touched.
Bretagne (pronounced "Brittany"), who died in 2016 at the age of 16, was one of approximately 300 search dogs who spent weeks searching for people in the rubble of the World Trade Center.
Ground zero was the first deployment for the golden retriever and her handler Denise Corliss. In the years that followed, they deployed as a search team in response to Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Ivan, and other disasters.
Today, Bretagne and Corliss remain a symbol of the important work done by search and rescue dogs and their humans. There's even a life-size bronze memorial statue of Bretagne at the entrance of Corliss' neighborhood in Cypress, Texas.
As for Corliss, these days she's still hard at work training dogs and responding to disasters for the Texas A&M Task Force and as a Canine Search Specialist with the Cy-Fair Fire Department. Only now she does it wearing a necklace holding Bretagne's ashes.
"I don't take that pendant off," she told Today. "Bretagne is always with me when we deploy."
Bretagne is with Corliss in other ways too. Particularly via Finn, her 1-year-old sister.
Before they retired, Bretagne's breeders decided to have one more litter of puppies using the genetic material of Bretagne's biological father that had been frozen for 30 years.
"They notified me that they were going to have the last litter," Corliss tells Southern Living."It was an opportunity to get a dog—a puppy—that would be as close in lineage to Bretagne as possible."
"It was an opportunity that I didn't want to miss out on," she continued. "It was not a difficult [decision] at all. I was very excited to get a puppy that was going to be closely related to Bretagne."
Corliss says that Finn's similarities to Bretagne aren't just physical. Like her late sister, Finn is also extremely food motivated. They both developed the quirky behavior of carrying around a bag of treats until Corliss gives in. Finn even lays down like Bretagne did—with her legs flared out in the back like a frog. None of Corliss' other dogs have ever done that.
"I look over one day and there she was with her legs flared our in the back like Bretagne," she recalls. "It just made me smile."
Finn is currently one of the three golden retrievers in the Corliss household. She's joined by Corliss' current working search dog, 9-year-old Taser, and 2-year-old Rennes, who is one his way to passing an advanced-level FEMA test to become a search and rescue pup himself.
"It's daily training with these dogs. Every weekend we're on a rubble pile training," Corliss says. "It's hundreds and hundreds of hours of training each year to keep these dogs ready at a moment's notice. It's quite a commitment but it's something I'm passionate about."
As for Finn following in Bretagne's working-dog footsteps, Corliss says it's too early to tell. She's still not old enough to be screened.
"I'm hopeful," she says, "but we're going to have to wait and see."