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Researchers Learning From Dogs About Health Effects From Sept. 11

Posted December 9, 2005

— A study at N.C. State is learning from dogs that looked for survivors at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Now, those dogs could teach humans about the possible health hazards of working at the World Trade Center site.

One FEMA-certified search-and-rescue dog, Bretagne, worked tirelessly at the site to sniff out survivors after Sept. 11. She and her handler never found any.

Now, researchers wonder whether the substances that Bretagne (pronounced Brittany) and other rescue dogs breathed in will harm them.

"(There was) the dust, cars were still there, coolants from the cars that possibly leaked," said handler Denise Corliss.

The dog is participating in a five-year cancer study utilizing MRI technology at the N.C. State Vet School, which is home to the Iams Pet Imaging Center.

"Without the study, there wouldn't have been any way for me to know she'd be OK conclusively, and so far that's what her records show," said Corliss.

Four years in, preliminary findings show no signs of cancer-related diseases in any of the dogs.

Experts believe that's encouraging for the animals and for the human first responders at the site.

"The dogs are a really good model for what might happen in people because the dogs are at ground level," said Dr. Ian Robertson, a veterinary radiologist. "They are sniffing a lot. That's what they are there for. They are getting a much bigger dose of toxic fumes than the people who worked there."

Researchers said that if there was going to be some adverse effects from taking in all those chemicals, they would be more likely to see them in dogs first.

Bretagne and her handler have worked several other big disasters since Sept. 11 including Hurricanes Ivan and Katrina and the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion.

"We will respond anytime we are called to, and part of doing that job is knowing you will be at risk and we are willing to do that," said Corliss.


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