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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

Never Forget the Animals of 9-11

Published 09/17/09
By Nikki Solone, guest blogger

Nikki Solone, a well known Sacramento artist and Born Free USA Artist for Animals, provided us with the following guest blog. The story originally appeared in Nikki’s own newsletter. When we read this heartwarming story, we knew we wanted to share it with you as well. You can commission your own painting from Nikki here and she’ll ensure a portion is donated to Born Free USA.

September 11, 2001 is a day most of us will never forget as we witnessed the attacks and collapse of the twin towers, falling with them 2,740 of America’s citizens. What we must also never forget are the teams of heroic people and search and rescue dogs who saved lives while risking their own as they searched through the rubble.

Nikki Solone's portrait of Ana

Dogs called upon for search and rescue efforts are certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). They undergo special training to develop the necessary skills to become a canine called upon specifically for disaster response. On 9/11, FEMA task forces and state and local search and rescue emergency teams from all over the nation were deployed to Ground Zero. Among the FEMA canines deployed that terrible day was Ana, a golden retriever born to a backyard breeder on July 4, 1995. Ana had boundless energy from the very beginning and bounced between adoptive homes before being placed with the Assistance Dog Institute. Unfortunately, Ana proved to be too active to work as an assistance dog. Knowing Ana was driven with an intense desire to please, the Assistance Dog Institute thought Ana might be better suited as a search and rescue dog.

They decided to mention Ana to the head of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, whose mission is to rescue dogs and turn them into rescuers. That decision turned out to be the right one. Ana was rescued by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation and began her training in January 1997 — she had found her calling.

Just eight months later, she was one of the first nationally certified Fire Department Disaster Search Canines and one of the first dogs certified by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. Ana was exceptional at finding people and climbing ladders and graduated with high honors along with classmates, Harley and Dusty. After graduation, Ana was assigned to the Sacramento Fire Department where she was paired up with Captain Rick Lee and became a member of the fire crew at Fire Station No. 56 on 47th Avenue in South Sacramento and of the fire department’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force No. 7.

Despite not owning a dog before, Captain Lee proved to be an outstanding handler and Ana the perfect partner. The pair developed an incredible bond and shared more than their days off together and a locker at the station; they shared friendship. After 9/11, Ana and Captain Lee were deployed to Ground Zero. Once there, Ana would show little signs of fatigue as they made their way through the rubble and debris, even when her fellow colleagues were exhausted.

Ana was a top gun in Captain Lee’s book and he was extremely proud of her work at Ground Zero. According to Captain Lee and other first responders, the search and rescue dogs worked just as hard as they did, if not more. In addition to their work at Ground Zero, Ana and Captain Lee are well known for their work at three separate building collapses in Sacramento and their efforts during Hurricane Katrina. Ana was also featured in several local and national news stories, a spot on Animal Planet and a book titled Dog Heroes of September 11th. She also was filmed five years ago for the National Geographic Channel show titled Dogs with Jobs.

Nikki presents Ana's portrait to Captain Rick Lee

Ana retired in 2007 but continued to spend time at the station forever by her partner’s side. Sadly, on November 12, 2008, Ana passed away of lung cancer in the arms of Captain Lee. She was 13 years old. Ana and Captain Lee were a disciplined, energetic and dedicated team, not only to their search and rescue efforts, but to each other. Together they had paved the way for future handlers and their canine partners. She was forever by his side and she is forever in the hearts of all who were fortunate enough to know her or be found by her.

Guest blogging for Born Free USA,

Nikki Solone

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