Bretagne was a hero and she deserves a celebration.
Spoiler alert: This video is probably going to make you cry.
Don’t worry, this isn’t one of those videos where the dog dies: Barkbox recently celebrated the 16th birthday of Bretagne, the oldest known living search and rescue dog who served at Ground Zero after Sept. 11, 2001. And boy, did she party.
Bretagne and Denise Corliss were both members of Texas Task Force 1, an urban search and rescue that deploys to disaster sites around the world. (Check out their Facebook, too.) Ground Zero was their first mission together, where the rescue effort soon shifted to recovery as almost 100 dog and owner pairs scoured the wreckage.
In the “Bretagne’s Best Day” video, Corliss talks about how she didn’t anticipate the role that Bretagne would play as a therapy dog while on-site. Emergency service workers were comforted by contact with the dogs, particularly one fireman, as documented in a photo.
In 2011, photographer Charlotte Dumas travelled to take portraits of the remaining search and rescue dogs. Dumas sought to recognize and commemorate the working dogs who weren’t so much forgotten as lost to public knowledge against the scale of the human tragedy. There were 15 at the beginning of her project. That number dwindled to 12 by the time her project “Retrieved” saw publication. As Dumas told the Daily Mail:
“These portraits are about how time passes, and how these dogs and their portraits are offering us a way to deal with the things that happened as well as relying on them for comfort.”
And now, 14 years on from the events of 9/11, Bretagne is the only dog who remains. Despite her years and her service, Bretagne still played like a puppy when she hit the water fountains at Hudson River Park, where she was presented with a Tiffany & Co. bone-shaped dog tag.
Barkbox and 1 Hotels put dog and owner up in a suite, ordered them room service (is there anything better than a dog eating a hamburger?), sent them on special trips around the city in a vintage cab, and topped the whole thing off with a birthday bash. (Hmm, maybe a dog eating cake is better than a dog eating a hamburger.) Everywhere they went, people stopped and showed Bretagne some love.
In the 14 years since 9/11, the United States has changed, in some ways not for the better. But there is something that remains hopeful about celebrating a dog for her work today, about celebrating the love that New York City has for its heroes.
Just make sure you have some tissues.
Screengrab via BarkBox/YouTube