Some of the rescued and the rescuers at Ground Zero were not human.

10 September 2021 By Paul Martin

Dogs who helped rescue people from the collapsed Twin Towers at Ground Zero or sniffed out the injured and the dead received huge publicity and universal praise.

One Minnesota couple even sent “dog boots” to help protect the heroic canines from the sharp rubble.

But there was another, less-publicised drama going on: to rescue pets who had escaped death but were inside or near the buildings evacuated around Ground Zero. After the terrorist attacks, none of the residents of the buildings in the area were allowed back in to collect their pets.

As a journalist looking for a good story, I was able to escape a well-guarded cordon around the World Trade Center site and the nearby buildings, slipping in unnoticed by means of walking alongside a team of cat rescuers. A haunting image for me was a whole bar-and restaurant, almost intact but covered with a thick layer of dust, on the fifth floor of a building alongside the destroyed Twin Towers. Rescuers thought cats and dogs might have been desperate enough to find beer and cold drinks there if fridges or bottles or containers had smashed.

No animals there, though.

Volunteers ran a command centre for pet rescues — even kitted out with a makeshift mobile operating theatre.

Among the owners of missing pets was Hiro Oshima, a photographer who lived a block away. He was at home when he heard the first airplane attack. He rushed out with his camera and was clicking photographs when the buildings began to come down.

He ran for his life, planning to come back later to collect Laertes, his 9-month-old Bengal cat.

Four days later Oshima contacted the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) command centre. They found Laertes, who had had no food but had been able to drink water. “Even the water he’d drunk was filled with soot when we went in to my apartment,” Oshima said, “He must have been so scared.”

[Several of Oshima’s haunting photographs of that day are displayed on the 9-11 Museum’s website and in its exhibition.]

Another happy outcome came three days after Cheryl Dunn had to flee her apartment. She is captured on video yelling: “The cats, the cats.” When she was able to get back into her dust-coated apartment she could see only the encrusted outlines of her two bicycles, and a menu from a local restaurant called La Marais Take Out. Then she discovered both cats were still inside.

The rescuers saved cats, dogs, birds, and even a gecko.

To find “Little Dude”, rescuers had to climb 39 floors. They brought him back to his owner, Eve Kline. “Little Dude” was a 3-year-old lizard which had been so stressed by the explosions that he had shed his skin. (Animal experts say geckos shed their skins routinely, but this skin-shedding was brought on by trauma.)

“Sometimes the owners feel so guilty that they abandoned their pets,” said Jennifer Olsen of the ASPCA. “We have to counsel them, too. But it is so gratifying to see them when they reunite with their pets after all this time.”

Some of the pets were taken to animal care shelters in the city. The y were assumed to have belonged to someone who had died or was missing.

The ASPCA received offers to adopt the animals from other New York residents.

People donated hundreds of bags of cat food and dog food and animal containers to transport the pets.

One pet transporter, Robert Ake, drove to New York all the way from Colorado to help with the pet rescues.