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Did you ever wonder where the generic dog name "Rover" came from? In 1905, a collie named Blair became the first doggie movie star whose character name was "Rover" in a movie called "Rescued by Rover." In this British film, "Rover" saves a kidnapped baby, thus starting the trend toward telling stories of canine heroism. This trend led to the making of the Hollywood legend "Lassie", a character played by a series of related collies, ironically all were male dogs.
Perhaps the most famous of all Hollywood dog heroes is "Rin Tin Tin", a German Sheppard who was rescued from the trenches of World War I and brought to Hollywood by the American pilot, Lee Duncan. The dog's beauty and intelligence became the foundations of a movie career that saved Warner Brothers from bankruptcy, and a breeding program that lives on today. In addition to making movies with his dog, Lee Duncan also used his training talent to form the first U.S. Military K-9 Corps of some 5000 dogs used for Red Cross service in World War II.
The "Rin Tin Tin" lineage lives on today in Rin Tin Tin X, also known as Micah, a silver and black male strikingly similar to the original Rin Tin Tin. Micah makes appearances as a celebrity, but his most important work is as a certified Pet Assisted Therapy Dog. And like all dogs trained to assist people, whether for therapy, guiding, or search and rescue, Micah will never know that he is a hero.
While these are a few of the famous dogs whose names and faces we will never forget, there are many more who do heroic duties in total anonymity. Amid the devastation that followed the attacks of 9/11, it was the SAR dogs that worked to exhaustion, searching through the rubble that was once the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
For a full month, some 350 Search and Rescue dogs combed "the Pile" in a valiant but futile effort to find survivors. The only survivors were those that fled the buildings before they collapsed. But at the time, there was no way to know that without taking the time and effort to search. And it was the SAR dogs, coming from all over the nation and Canada that did the lion's share of the work, crawling and jumping and squeezing into spaces that humans could not, using their superior ability to smell and hear.
These dogs are trained to find the living, and so this work became exceedingly stressful. In addition to the physical rigors and dangers inherent in the massive pile of rubble, the failure to find anyone alive was keenly felt by the dogs. Soon the firemen developed a game to help the dogs by hiding in the rubble to be "found." This provided the dogs with much needed reward for their hard work. But despite not finding any survivors, the work that the dogs provided in finding many of those who perished was deeply appreciated by all.
Perhaps the most needed and least recognized service that these dogs provided in the end was the emotional support that the presence of a dog brings. Many of the firemen held up stoically as they worked, and then let their emotions out during a private moment with one of the SAR dogs.
Amazingly, only one SAR dog was injured during the month-long effort, and none were killed. The only dog to lose his life as a result of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center was "Sirus", a bomb-sniffing K-9 police dog who was stationed at the towers. After the first plane hit, Officer David Lim told Sirus to stay in the office while he went to investigate. While Officer Lim was rescued from a collapsed stairwell, Sirus was never found.
Today, the work of police dogs for bomb-sniffing, drug-sniffing, SAR, and a multitude of other duties is more prevalent than ever. In a world where humans often fool each other, it is not often that humans can fool a dog.