10 Years Later: Two Dogs Who Searched Ground Zero

Coby died earlier this year at age 16. Guinness, one of the few remaining Sept. 11 search dogs, continues a playful retirement in Highland

Coby and Guinness -- two labrador retrievers -- searched tirelessly through the rubble of the World Trade Center 10 years ago before returning home to Southern California and, eventually, retirement at their handlers' Highland home.

Special Section: America Remembers

Coby was 6 when he was deployed to the WTC site with Redlands Battalion Chief David Graves. The black lab died earlier this year, not long after shooting a segment for "Before the Barks" -- a series of educational web videos that provides a look at what it takes to become a search and rescue dog.

The black lab developed a distinguished white muzzle over the years. He lost his hearing, but understood hand signals and enjoyed many well-earned naps in the sun.

Guinness, a yellow lab, worked with Graves' wife, Shelia McKee, who started out in wilderness search and rescue before joining Riverside Task Force 6. McKee has been involved with search and rescue for about 20 years. She trains both urban search and rescue dogs and human remains detection dogs.

Graves recalled the overwhelming sight 10 years ago and the dogs' devotion in the days after the attacks. He and Coby worked the night shifts, which usually started at 7 p.m. and lasted about 12 hours.

"It was pretty hectic and pretty disorienting," said Graves. "We had no idea where we sat or how large it was at that point in relation to where we were at. There were a lot of people calling on us."

Coby and Guinness worked with their handlers for 11 days after the attacks. They were used to working debris piles during training that were much smaller than the World Trade Center site.

"He was covering a huge area, several stories underground and several stories above," said Graves. "The magnitude of the area he covered was a lot more than what we ever trained for."

His reward was either a chew toy or a ball.

A picture (right) of Graves and his canine partner at Ground Zero serves as a reminder of the exhaustion, emotion and dedication in the days after the attacks. Graves is leaning against a wall, eyes closed. Coby is alert by his side, ready for the next task.

Guinness is one of nine Sept. 11 search dogs who are still alive. Twelve were alive at the time photographs were taken for a book by Charlotte Dumas.

"Retrieved," which features this picture of Guinness, will be released Sept. 11.

McKee and her yellow lab worked the day shift in the days after the towers collapsed.

"The thing I remember most is there were thousands of people on the pile," said McKee. "Normally, there are just  a few people. There was so much noise, things were on fire, and Guinness did what he did every single day in training."

There were several tense moments. The pile was evacuated several times because of fear of collapse.

"There was this whole mass of people, and we didn't know what was happening," said McKee.

Guinness, 15, returned to work several search operations -- Hurricane Katrina, the La Conchita Mudslide and wilderness searches with the San Bernardino Sheriff's Department.

"He's had a really good career," said McKee, who said Guinness has sight and hearing loss, but remains energetic.

From Puppies to Heroes

The "Before the Barks" videos are primarily for young students to learn about the dogs' contributions to public safety and better understand what it takes to become dogs like Coby and Guinness. The first episode follows five puppies through the early training days.

"There are two sides, and you have to balance," said LA firefighter Margaret Stewart, whose partners are Bo and Rose. "It's truly a partnership -- the dogs can't do it without you, and you're pretty helpless without the dogs. If a handler goes on the pile and they're nervous, the dog will feel that. There is trust and respect between two of us."

Dogs start training when they are young, some at just a few months old. Coby, for example, was adopted when he was 1 from the Redlands Humane Society before being trained in urban search and rescue.

"He was supposed to have problems with other dogs when we got him, but I started working with him and he had the drive to become a search and rescue dog," said Graves.

It was during their nightly searches in New York City that Graves noticed something about Coby's behavior. He reacted strongly when he detected on human remains, although he had never been trained for human remains detection.

"He probably found remains of 18 to 20 people," said Graves. "Some remains were as small as a piece of hair."

Coby went on to train for human remains detection and worked mudslides and other search areas in Southern California. He worked for several years with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

Training usually takes about 18 months for Federal Emergency Management Agency certification. The deployment in September 2001 was the first large-scale use of canines for search and rescue. FEMA has 28 urban search and rescue task forces, and 26 were deployed to different sites after the attacks.

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Before the Barks - Episode 1 - 9/11 Search Dogs from David & Cameron Barrett on Vimeo.

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