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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 12:50 GMT 13:50 UK
At a veterinary M*A*S*H
Dog on transport stretcher
A search dog is transported from the ruined towers
As cranes, bulldozers and human muscle excavate the rubble of the World Trade Center, it is the scores of rescue dogs some are banking on to direct them to survivors. BBC News Online's Ryan Dilley visits one canine rescue team fresh from "ground zero".

Traffic is backing up on the approach road to Lincoln Tunnel. As cabs, trucks and cars jostle for position in the muggy afternoon heat, tempers are beginning to fray.

Honour the heroes
Rescue dog Dusty rang the closing bell on Wall Street on Wednesday - traders gave him a standing ovation
The civic unity forged by last week's terrorist attack on New York is dissipating with every angry honk of a horn.

In the nearby air-conditioned and sound-proofed Jacob Javits Center, the communal effort to free those trapped under the rubble is still utmost in everyone's thoughts.

This aircraft hanger of a convention centre is home to the dog teams so vital in pinpointing signs of life within the collapsed towers.

Lucas and his handler
Dozens of dogs and their handlers are involved
Tascha and Lucas strain at their leads as Ohio rescue team worker Gary Flynn walks the dogs down the main thoroughfare of this mini-city.

Crews from as far a field as Florida and Puerto Rico have staked out tented camps under the high ceiling, and Mr Flynn stops frequently to oblige those eager to stroke and pat his two canine co-workers.

Canine comfort

He says that it's the same story at "ground zero". "Hundreds of fire-fighters come over to us just to pet the dogs. I think they really want the contact to help make them feel better."

Dog and handler searching WTC
Dogs have led handlers to victims' bodies
But Tascha and Lucas are not at the disaster site to boost morale.

In this most technologically advanced of nations, it could be the keen noses and acute hearing of these animals which guide their human masters to a survivor trapped beneath the fallen concrete and steel.

"They are trained to seek out the odour of a living person. In training they associate that odour with a hidden toy. They penetrate into the rubble as far as they can and then bark to alert us," says Mr Flynn.

NYFD dog sleeps behind handler
A Fire Department dog and handler take a break
Though the cherished personal pets of their handlers, the Ohio dogs are sent into voids and over obstacles deemed too dangerous for human rescuers to negotiate, says team leader Steve Shuperl.

"They're a valuable asset, but because they are lighter and more agile than humans, they are less likely to be injured."

Woody, the third of the Ohio team's dogs, bounds across the room with owner Terry Trepanier. "They're like circus performers. They can jump from I-beam to I-beam," he says.

Vets in practice

The difficult and dangerous terrain can sometimes prove too much for even these sure-footed creatures, with vets stationed nearby saying they treat as many as 150 rescue dogs everyday.

Vet M*A*S*H team
Vets check the dogs at the end of each shift
Woody's paw was slashed on his first day at "ground zero", putting him out of action for a frustrating day-and-a-half.

Protective dog shoes have flooded into the building from concerned Americans across the nation, but the Ohio team feel the coverings hinder their dogs' natural ability to grip uneven surfaces, putting them at even greater risk of serious injury.

Tascha too carries the scars of working 12-hours rescue shifts downtown.

Tascha has suffered cuts and burns in the ruins
"Cut paws, cut nose, cut legs, needle marks from the saline rehydration drips," says Mr Flynn as the Belgian Malinios turns over for a belly rub, revealing a raw, foot-long burn. "That's from the red hot steel."

Because of the nature of their work, the dogs traverse the smoking, dusty rubble without the respirators or masks vital to their human counterparts.

"We flush out their eyes and noses regularly. But they're doing pretty good with the dust, better than us maybe."

After each shift
Vets check for dehydration, smoke inhalation and contact with toxins
Then volunteers wash and massage each dog
Since the dogs are being sent deep into the wreckage of the WTC, their breaks are often taken underground, says Mr Flynn.

"When we're working subterranean, we take saline and eye drops with us. We make a good space, check them over and maybe play a game with them."

Bodies, not survivors

Trained to find live humans amid the ruins, the dogs are as frustrated as any of the human rescuers that no survivor has been found for more than a week.

Iwel at the centre
Boundless energy: Iwel - pronounced "evil"
"They find it very stressful not to be finding anyone alive, so we play games with them, games that they can win.

"They're masters at body language and they can sense the mood at 'ground zero' and recognise the severity of what's going on. It's important to get them away from the pile."

Back at the Ohio team's staging area, German Shepherd Iwel jumps up any at of the teenage National Guardsmen who pass too close as he rushes from chair to chair, sniffing.

His boundless energy contrasts with the sombre mood which has overcome Woody. The dog slowly settles into his kennel cage sadly, and the door locks behind him. Master of body language, perhaps he knows that the Ohio team are to return home empty handed.

Woody sleeping in cage at the centre
Woody slumps in his cage at the centre

Dog shoes
Shoes to protect the search dogs' paws have been sent in from around the US
See also:

17 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Robots aid New York rescue workers
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