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9/11 Search and Rescue Dog Statue Near Houston Reminds Us to Never Forget

The K9 hero may not be with us anymore, but this tribute will be.

In a nod to one of the bravest search and rescue dogs that helped find survivors at Ground Zero, a statue of Bretagne the Golden Retriever was erected in Cypress, Texas, just outside Houston, where the pup had retired. The fitting inscription on the statue reads:

"Bretagne's years of service remind all of us how to live our best possible lives. Although she is no longer with us, her spirit lives on through those who serve."

Bretagne (pronounced Brittany) was the final 9/11 New York City search and rescue dog who died at 16 and a half years old in June of 2016 due to kidney failure. One of the original 300 FEMA rescue dogs deployed after 9/11, Bretagne searched through rubble and twisted metal of the World Trade Center for survivors from the terrorist attacks that America will never forget.

While Bretagne may no longer be with us, there are plenty of ways we can continue to honor her and the many other search and rescue dogs who did such important work in the days following 9/11.

Honoring Bretagne

A tribute to the brave search dog who helped with the rescue efforts was unveiled in the neighborhood where Bretagne and her handler Denise Corliss lived.

Friends, family, first responders, and fans came together, still reeling from Hurricane Harvey, to recognize the rescue dog on the 16th anniversary of September 11. The life-size bronze statue was unveiled on Monday even as the neighborhood is still cleaning up from Harvey's flooding. In fact, Bretagne's handler was on a Texas Task Force search and rescue mission with her current dog, Taser, in Rockport, Ingleside, and other Gulf towns helping search for survivors from Hurricane Harvey.

READ MORE: Energetic Shelter Dog Saved from Euthanization Now Helping in Houston

"People really do pull together in the worst of times," Corliss told TODAY.

"There are so many first responders, and so many strangers, helping to save each other. ... I'm so touched — dumbfounded, even — that people wanted to do something this special for Bretagne and felt so strongly about it. Bretagne has become a symbol for those who serve. This is about honoring all first responders."

Bretagne's Statue

The statue is right as one enters the town of Cypress in front of the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department station where Bretagne also worked. Visitors can pay their respects and learn about the amazing hero dog who not only spent time at Ground Zero but also helped in Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Ivan, and Hurricane Rita.

The statue's artist Lena Tortich knew she had to represent the beloved dog and studied photos to create the bronze in Bretagne's likeness.

"The statue shows Bretagne in her prime, on her best day, when she was young and fresh and happy," Toritch said. "I wanted to show her smile, her sweet disposition.

"I think it's very symbolic for the statue not only to be unveiled on 9/11, but to be unveiled in the Houston area. It shows respect and gratitude for first responders and it honors the resilience of people who don't want to stop living their lives."

Bretagne retired from her search and rescue efforts at nine years old and spent the rest of her days as a therapy dog who visited elementary schools and helped young kids learn to read. She was a beloved dog and this statue is just another way the world can remember the brave canine. 

Honoring the 9-11 Search and Rescue Dogs

Bretagne was just one of nearly 300 dogs that aided in 9/11 search and rescue efforts, according to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. These highly-trained dogs used their search and rescue skills to find survivors in the rubble of the buildings.

One of these search and rescue dogs found the last living survivor of the attack 27 hours after the buildings collapsed. Because finding survivors was so rare, the dogs began to get tired and discouraged with the search. Their handlers recognized this and staged "mock finds" so that the dogs could feel encouraged to continue with the search.

These dogs were heroes just like every human being who ran to help on 9/11. The dogs' acts of bravery have been recognized by media, and the book, Dog Heroes of September 11th, was written to honor these brave animals. Animal Planet also released a special called Hero Dogs of 9/11. 

We can continue to honor these dogs' memory by talking about them, sharing articles about them with friends, and never forgetting their dedication to their jobs. If you have kids, share these stories with your children so that they can learn about all of the ways these rescue dogs helped humans, even in the wake of tragedy. If you can, make a visit to Bretagne's statue, too.

While the 9/11 search and rescue dogs have passed away, there are many search and rescue dogs still continuing this important work today. You can support them with a donation to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, which rescues and recruits search dogs, then partners them with firefighters and first responders. These dogs and their human partners work to find people buried alive after disasters, much in the same way dogs saved lives after 9/11.

Will you go visit the statue of Bretagne? What do you think of this tribute? Tell us in the comments below.

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