Coram memorial hails unsung canine heroes

Suffolk County Police Officer Samuel Barreto with his

Suffolk County Police Officer Samuel Barreto with his K9 Chase, at a ceremony at the 9/11 memorial in Coram. Chase was honored for helping to rescue Dr. Jerome Nadler, who went missing while fly-fishing on Labor Day at a Smithtown nature preserve. (September 8, 2012) (Credit: Ed Betz)

A group of 9/11 first responders that have gone mostly unheralded were honored Saturday at a park in Coram.

After the two hijacked planes struck the Twin Towers, about 300 rescue dogs were brought in to help with the search-and-rescue effort. They, like their human counterparts, spent days poring through the rubble, looking for survivors and, later, people's remains.

Dog handler Penny Sullivan's pager went off at 9:18 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, at her home in upstate New York. Sullivan, who works for the Ramapo Rescue Dog Association, a search-and-rescue organization that uses German shepherds, went to Ground Zero, and later that day, other canine units arrived from across the country.

Sullivan worked the pile with her dog, Quest, for 10 days. She recalled watching the four-legged responders walking over steel beams as fire blazed underneath them.

On Saturday, Sullivan, of Chester, and dozens of others -- including rescue dogs, first responders, firefighters and elected officials -- gathered around a new stone memorial with a 400-pound bronze statue of a German shepherd rescue dog perched on top. The memorial was unveiled at the Diamond in the Pines Park to honor the canines, but also military and law enforcement dogs.

Rich Acritelli, of Wading River, an Army and Air Force veteran and one of the organizers, said they raised about $22,000 and worked on the project for about nine months.

A local hero also was recognized. Chase, a 4-year-old German shepherd, found Jerome Nadler, the missing East Setauket doctor who vanished after going fly-fishing at a Smithtown park on Labor Day. Suffolk County SPCA chief Roy Gross named Chase canine of the year.

The memorial, many said, gave these dogs the recognition they deserve.

"They are heroes, unsung heroes," Gross said.

The county SPCA's mobile unit went to Ground Zero to aid the dogs, he said.

After hours of searching through the debris, some of the dogs were severely dehydrated and needed to receive liquids intravenously. Gross said their eyes had to be irrigated with saline solution, their ears cleaned and cuts stitched up.

"Yet they endured and kept working like the true soldiers they are," he said.

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