Abigail the Labrador Retriever was among the one hundred canine First Responders sent to Ground Zero on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 when the Twin Towers fell. While her handler, Debra Tosch, took in the wreckage, Abby went to work, searching for the dead and the injured amongst the rubble.
When one firefighter heard news that a friend of his had been killed, he turned to Abby, burying his face in her fur. This is what Tosch remembers most about the dogs of 9/11; they gave people solace at a time when none could be found.
Ten years later, Dutch photographer Charlotte Dumas drew the same sense of warmth and hope when she tracked down and visited the fifteen living rescue dogs who served at Ground Zero after connecting with the manager of FEMA.
Dumas traveled the country to pay tribute to these canine heroes, who were by that time retired and living out their golden years with their handlers. As she got to know the dogs, what began as a small, personal project evolved into Retrieved, a paean to the dogs of 9/11, available now only in Collectors Editions.
The rescue dogs and their handlers, suggests the photographer in conversation with ABC Canberra, share a lifelong kinship with one another. Unlike military dogs, who are usually re-homed or adopted upon retirement, these dogs remain with those who served with them.
Some, like Moxie, spent their days in nature or along the waterfront, soaking up the sun. Many wanted to work even after their joints began to creak; they longed for the search. Bretagne was the last dog in the group to pass away, and she survived to see her sixteenth birthday. Her mom, Denise Corliss, held her in her final moments. When she was carried out of the veterinary clinic where she died, firefighters saluted her body. She was covered by an American flag.
Dumas could never have anticipated the emotional investment that Retrieved would elicit in her. When she depicted each dog, she recognized not only that she was honoring them but that in some ways, her portraits would become mementos to be cherished long after they passed away.
These dogs were elderly, and some, like Abby, died shortly after the ten-year anniversary. In the end, the work is not only about the bodies that these dogs retrieved in 2001 but about the ways in which we—ten, fifteen, or a hundred years later— can retrieve the memories of what they did for us. They spent their lives searching, and here, in this beautiful book, they wait to be found.
Header image © Charlotte Dumas, courtesy Julie Saul Gallery