Usdan Institute

Health Impact of 9/11 on NYPD Working Dogs

By Dr. Ann Hohenhaus

A search and rescue team at Ground Zero

Moments after the first tower fell, the Animal Medical Center’s Dr. Philip Fox received a call from an NYPD Police Lieutenant overseeing the NYPD Emergency Service Unit canines with a plea for emergency veterinary care. The chaotic scene of that day and its hero dogs inspired Dr. Fox to further AMC’s mission of creating new knowledge. 

Through a research grant funded by the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, he initiated a study of the health impact of 9/11 rescue work on the NYPD working dogs that assisted in relief efforts beginning on 9/11 and continuing for months afterward. The 27 NYPD dogs studied were deployed to the WTC site for a combined total of 15,148 hours and were monitored until 2006 for both short- and long-term health effects. The results of the examinations, blood tests, and toxicology studies were published in the prestigious Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2008.

Acute Health Conditions of NYPD Dogs Working at WTC Site

Despite the harsh working conditions at the WTC site, none of the 27 NYPD dogs died or suffered serious injuries from their work between September 11, 2001 and May 30, 2002. Twenty-two of the 27 NYPD dogs suffered an acute health condition within the first 3 weeks after the terrorist attack, mostly fatigue, eye irritation and coughing or gagging. The injuries were treated on site and appeared to be related to exposure to smoke and particulate matter, as signs of most of these conditions developed shortly after exposure to the disaster site.

Exposure to Toxic Substances at Ground Zero

The WTC site environment was contaminated with cement, glass, fiberglass, asbestos, lead, jet fuel, and a variety of toxins including polychlorinated biphenyls, chlorinated hydrocarbons, and dioxins. To determine if the dogs developed elevated levels of these toxins in their body, blood and hair samples were analyzed. Given that these dogs worked with their nose to the ground, Dr. Fox’s research team expected elevated toxin levels, especially in the 17 of 27 dogs with prolonged exposure to the WTC site. Yet, the only toxin found to be elevated in these dogs was blood lead concentration in the 17 dogs with prolonged exposure, but not in the remaining 10 dogs with brief exposure to the site.

Long-term Health Effects of 9/11 on NYPD Working Dogs

Although coughing  and gagging were common during the first 3 weeks of disaster relief work in the NYPD dogs deployed to the WTC site, long-term health surveillance did not reveal any clinical evidence of chronic respiratory disease based on physical examination and x-rays of the lungs. During the five years following the 9/11 attacks, six of the NYPD dogs died of natural causes. Compared to matched control dogs from the AMC database, the cause of death in these dogs did not appear to be different than that of AMC patients and were common diseases of old dogs. The NYPD dogs died of cancer (osteosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma), bloat, inflammatory bowel disease, and arthritis. 

At this time of remembering the first responders of 9/11, both human and canine, we are eternally grateful for their sacrifices and are relieved no long-term health effects could be identified in these hero dogs.

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