NEW YORK (AP) – In the first days after the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center, rescue dog Jake’s shining black nose burrowed through white-hot, smoking debris, searching for humans and ignoring the heat under his paws.
This week, even after the black Labrador was put to sleep, he was still serving humanity: The results of an autopsy on his cancer-riddled body are part of a University of Pennsylvania medical study of Sept. 11 search-and-rescue dogs.
Jake’s owner said he was like every other dog when she found him.
“But against all odds he became a world-class rescue dog,” said owner Mary Flood, a member of Utah Task Force 1, one of eight federal search-and-rescue teams that desperately looked for human remains at ground zero.
Anguished New Yorkers honored the dogs.
On the evening of his team’s arrival, Jake walked into a fancy Manhattan restaurant wearing his search-and-rescue vest and was promptly treated to a free steak dinner under a table.
Flood had adopted Jake as a 10-month-old disabled puppy – abandoned on a street with a broken leg and a dislocated hip.
“He was not considered very adoptable,” says the investment firm executive.
She adopted him anyway, got his leg operated on and eventually trained him to become one of fewer than 200 U.S. government-certified rescue dogs – a muscular animal on 24-hour call to tackle disasters such as building collapses, earthquakes, hurricanes and avalanches.
After Hurricane Katrina, Flood and Jake drove 30 hours from Utah to Mississippi, where they foraged through the rubble of flooded homes in search of survivors.
In recent years, Jake helped train younger dogs and their handlers across the country. Jake showed other dogs how to track scents, even in the snow, and how to look up if the scent is in a tree.
He also did therapy work with children at a Utah camp for burn victims and at senior homes and hospitals.
“He was a great morale booster wherever he went,” said Flood. “He believed that his cup was always full, never half-full. He was always ready to work, eager to play – and a master at helping himself to any unattended food items.”
He was 12 when he succumbed to cancer. Flood had him put to sleep at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, after his last stroll through the fields and a dip in the creek near their home in Oakley, Utah. But he was in too much pain at the end, shaking with a 105-degree fever as he lay on the lawn.
No one can say whether the dog would have gotten sick if he hadn’t been exposed to the smoky air at ground zero, says a University of Pennsylvania veterinarian leading the research. Cancer in dogs Jake’s age is common.
But Cynthia Otto, associate professor of critical care at Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, says Jake and about 60 other ground zero dogs being studied had put in up to 10 days at the terrorism site, which was thick with potentially carcinogenic chemicals. Her team is paying special attention to the incidence of cancer.
The results of the study, begun within months of Sept. 11, 2001, are being analyzed.
Otto, who had worked as a ground zero vet for the Pennsylvania rescue dogs, expects Jake and the other animals in the study to serve as sentinels on long-term consequences.
“We may see health effects that will follow in humans 10 or 20 years from now,” Otto said.
Funds used for the study will pay for Jake’s cremation.
His ashes will be scattered “in places that were important to him,” says Flood, like his Utah training grounds, the rivers and hills near home where he swam and roamed.