A Persistent Muse

Born to stir the pot & punish the world for not paying attention

A Persistent Muse

A Persistent Muse
The Heart of the MIDWEST,
September 05
In real life I teach art, art history, drawing and painting at a private high school. I recently left my job teaching in an innercity high school. Bottom line: I love teaching and this is my 40th year doing so! I adore visual and verbal expression and the whole wrestling match of creativity. Do I have the idea or does it have me? I hope to become a better writer through my blogs and exposure to exceptional writers. My Avatar is based upon a Seraph/Angel I painted for a child in our family.


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SEPTEMBER 12, 2010 2:33AM

Big Shoulders and the Dogs of War/Repost

Rate: 40 Flag

We met on a sidewalk in September, 1968, just outside a movie theater on Green Street in Champaign Illinois. From that second forward we were dear close friends. Mike embodies the best of a Midwesterner's sensibility and approach to life. He’s open, gregarious, shirt-off-his-back generous, down-to–earth authentic, quick witted and funny as hell. And, he’s smart.  In fact he is the smartest man I’ve ever known… well-versed in a wide variety of subjects…a talented scholar with a brilliant mind and an exceptional medical diagnostician. He’s a pretty fine tenor, a great conversationalist and a fiercely loyal friend. Time and distance never seemed to impact the quality of our friendship or the fluidity of our conversations. That’s the way it was - the way it’s always been.  

Mike, born an Irish Catholic, was raised in Chicago but quickly became a New Yorker after graduating from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. He left to pursue an Internship and Internal Medicine Residency at The Animal Medical Center in New York City. Eventually, he became Chairman of the its Department of Medicine, Director of the E. & M. Bobst Hospital, and Chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine and Critical Care. Mike’s a big guy, inside and out. He's a “City of the Big Shoulders” kind of big guy...with the kind of shoulders needed in New York during the aftermath of the September 11th attacks in 2001. 

Around 7:45 that morning, I headed into the faculty lounge to retrieve my mail and then just stopped in my tracks. Several teachers were crowded around a small television watching footage from the first plane’s impact on the north tower. We were stunned, horrified…silent. The day dragged endlessly on at school with minimal news availability aside from that obtainable between classes, during lunch or a preparation period. It was a Catholic high school in northern Illinois. The kids understandably wanted and needed to talk about what was happening and to pray...and so we did. All the while, I  wondered and worried about Mike. The Animal Medical Center is on East 62nd street near the Queensboro Bridge. Where was he?

Throughout that afternoon and evening calling proved to be impossible, so I emailed with no success. I kept thinking, "He’s there…in the heart of it…I know it. " My mother called… and my brother… and my friend Sarah. They all wanted to know. Had I heard from Mike? Was he okay? I watched the television throughout the night numb and desensitized... praying and waiting. A brief troubled sleep came somewhere short of dawn.

He wrote late the next day. What follows are parts of emails we exchanged for the next few weeks.

 I am fine. I spent the day down at the disaster tending to the search and rescue dogs. I can't believe I was just telling you how safe New York is. This is unreal.” 

At some point we spoke on the phone. Mike was exhausted, continuing to work at a MASH unit with the search and rescue dogs. The animals needed IV fluids, antibiotics, treatment for cuts, burns, and various injuries incurred as they worked long impossible shifts at Ground Zero.


Fema News Photo, Andrea Booher, 2001.

“Dear Mike,Here in the Heartland the strength, the love and the greatness of this country are everywhere visible. Each street, small or large has become a sea of red, white and blue. Everyone wants to do something...donations, fund-drives, everywhere. It seems that so much horror so much unspeakable evil and tragedy has brought forth so much love...so much caring...and yes, so much fierce determination to help and to endure. The beauty and strength of the American spirit...the "ordinary" American people is overwhelming. Prayers never stop...nor do tears. These are unbelievably frightening, humbling and magnificent moments in which to live in this country...and amid them all...I continue to cherish you as the incredible gift you have always been in my life...All my love and prayers...Be safe...xo B”

On September 28th, Mike forwarded me an amazing article from the London Mirror. I include excerpts here:

“THE DOGS OF WAR  From Anton Antonowicz In New York”

“…THIS is the story of a band of heroes who cannot tell the tale themselves. They are the 300 sniffer dogs working at the very centre of the disaster. One has died, crushed beneath falling debris on the day the World Trade Center towers collapsed. Another has perished falling into a burning pit. At one stage they called the dogs off, believing it was too dangerous to continue. But their work has been too vital, too important. Within hours, they were back…
..That these animals have managed 12-hour shifts in a maelstrom of hot metal and choking dust is a tribute to their handlers and a remarkable team of veterinarians which has set up its own field hospital on the edge of the site. The M.A.S.H unit is a mobile hospital parked on West Side Highway, six blocks from where the WTC stood. The truck was originally a travelling clinic for neutering cats - the Mobile Animal Spay Hospital - and M.A.S.H. was a joke none of them could resist. Now the joke is lost. M.A.S.H. has become a crucial element in what is a war zone.


Fema News Photo, Andrea Booher, 2001.

...Dr Michael _ has been here since day one. An expert in emergency veterinary surgery, he is a huge man, sweating beneath the heat and the strain of keeping these animals doing their work - and alive.  "One fell face first into a dust hole," he says. "His mouth was filled with the muck down there. His ears, his eyes. He was basically buried alive. When they got him out he was suffocated. Thankfully I was able to resuscitate him and he's already back there. Another just collapsed, convulsing from over-exertion but again we were able to save him. The dogs' stamina is unbelievable. I have been a vet for 27 years and I have learned a lot this week."
As he speaks, a burly man in combat trousers leads his German shepherd, a Stars-and-Stripes bandana around its neck, into the M.A.S.H. unit. Danno Cusson was a police officer in Ottawa, Canada. He quit the job yesterday in order to carry on working here. He believes he'll be in New York for some time. Danno arrived within eight hours of the tragedy with 18-month-old Ranger. They have been living and sleeping on the site. Both are exhausted.
In the middle of that first night, sometime early on Wednesday when torrential rain hammered the rescue operation, Danno and Ranger found two of the countless trapped office workers. None has been found since. "We had lights but all you could see was grey rubble. My dog started pulling at the leash and then I saw them. They didn't look human. Just two piles of moving grey debris. I called the firemen and they pulled them out. They were both male and in pretty bad shape. I don't know if they made it. "We've made about another 20 hits, but they were all fatalities. The rest - maybe 60 or 70, I've lost count - were just parts. Bits. Terrible. Ranger would normally be looking for signs of life, now there are only signs of death."
Dr Mike checks the animal, running gloved hands over its body, checking for wounds. Many of the dogs have bandaged and taped paws or bootees to protect them from the sharp debris. He turns Ranger round to inject him with antibiotics. The dog yelps in pain, sending a small spurt of blood over Danno's right hand. The two men soothe Ranger. Another needle, another yelp, but this time the injection is delivered along with rehydrating fluid. The vet takes swabs, cleans Ranger's eyes and ears. The dogs wipe their eyes with their paws. The hair, of course, is matted with dust. Each cotton-wool stick is thick with filth, a gunk of shattered glass, asbestos and human tissue.


Fema News Photo, Michael Reiger,  2001.

...The animals are given antibiotics daily. The risk of disease is huge, both to people and dogs. Within days Manhattan could face viral outbreaks. It is a threat which sanitary and health officials have been fighting all week. Everyone here wears masks. Another vet, Martha O. tells me I must find a smog mask, and she suggests I have my suit dry-cleaned as soon as I can. "New York's air is never the cleanest," she says, "but no one knows what it contains now."
As if on cue, Danno leads his dog to a shower they have installed. He sprays the hose all over Ranger, the ground turning dark with blackened water. The bandana is dripping. "He's an honorary American now," jokes Danno. Then, after a weary handshake, he sets off back to The Pit, back to the Devil's own mouth.
Most of the dogs here are either Alsatians or Labradors. Bloodhounds are not used because they are trained to follow a specific person's route. The number of "specific persons" lost here is too vast to contemplate their use. A large number, as Dr. Mike explains, are "freelance" dogs from all over the US and Canada. There are also some supplied by the French government. They fall into two categories: rescue dogs looking for sweat, scent and breath, and cadaver dogs trained to find decomposing tissue. The Labradors have better scent; German shepherds are easier to train....
"It's so difficult down there," says Michael. "These animals are walking along those twisted beams. It's easy to slip. And it is a miracle we have had so few casualties." ...


Fema News Photo, Michael Reiger,  2001.

While dehydration is obviously a problem for animals working eight to 12 hours without water, another is that, put simply, they become confused. "They are out there searching scent in a pretty structured way, each pack given specific areas, but they are picking up all manner of bacteria, which means a host of scents, and it's very important to get those scents off the dog's body," says Michael, "otherwise you'll find dog trailing dog thinking it's on the way to a human being." ...
"It's probably not a day for talking about dogs when there's that out there," says another handler gesturing towards a seemingly endless plume of smoke billowing up and bending out to sea across the Hudson River like some sick silhouette of the Statue of Liberty. We all understand what he means. But these are days which are tireless dog days too. And we should be thankful for their role. ”

(Bold print above excerpted from the article: “THE DOGS OF WAR"  by Anton Antonowicz, London Mirror in NY September, 2001)

Anonymously taken uncredited photograph September, 2001


I'm so proud of my friend, Mike, and the role he played for over two weeks as a volunteer veterinarian at the M.A.S.H. unit near ground zero. I'm grateful for everyone, individual or group who shouldered into that work. Every September 11th finds me calling and emailing my friend simply to reach out...to say that I love him, that I remember where he was and what he did...that I recognize that while he witnessed horror, he made a difference. Unspeakable sadness, anger and an aching hollowness remain part of the remembrance. Thinking of Mike working there, imagining the things he saw, felt, breathed and experienced still carves into me. Photos of the towers, the firemen and the angellic  "Dogs of War" still make me cry.

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This is so masterfully written, PM - I feel as if I know Mike, and certainly as if I WANT to know him. Thank you for sharing his story with us! msp
What a beautiful, heart-wrenching story. Thank God for people like Mike. There are plenty of "Mikes" in America, it is just that we tend to pay attention to things like Lady Gaga, American Idol, and preachers burning books. It is sad. This was a story that made my day. R-
This is an incredible story ! Mike is a hero!
what a record and so well written! r.
Dear Kit, Dave, EllaRose, Jonathan, and all I miss in the next few hours. Thank you for commenting. I really wanted to take the time to write all of this myself, but my school commitments dictated that I finally simply added the Anton Antonowicz article which is bold at the bottom of my memories. It was tough to find the article again and I discovered that so many photos aren't online anymore. I've credited those I could within the tags. I hoped to tell a different side of the story...the one I experienced vicariously through Mike. I hope too that this story takes someone...anyone... to a slightly better place if even for a second. Though cobbled together, it seemed infinitely worth sharing. Next year I will try to steep myself in various sources and tell you more about the dogs themselves. Thanks for stopping...thanks for sharing your truths. This is just a sliver mine...the generous portions belong to the dogs, handlers, Mike and so many more. xo
Terrific post, PM: a great story you tell here, of heroism and perseverance and caring. I very much like, too, that you included your email to Dr. Mike. It reconjures the feeling of the time. I think we need that.
ps. I know there were many individuals and groups whose help and tireless devotion was essential to this effort. If you have knowledge of anyone, please feel free to add within the comment thread. Obviously, I have more homework to do and this is turning out to be a work in progress. Bless you.
What a great story, again a side to 9/11 I would not have learned about had it not been for you. God bless Mike and all those who served like him. R
A wonderfully humane "other" story of that deranged time in our history, Muse. The last photo should have won a Pulitzer.
I'm honored to read this, APM. Thanks for posting it here and sharing an important part of the story.
Many thanks for your comments. The last photo has no source to credit...I agree-Pulitzer material indeed. Off to an animal blessing service at our tiny church...
Oh Muse, I am speechless, this is the kind of tale that stirs the heart. I know the disaster that engulfed all of us, but those who worked in the aftermath, had some sense of their purpose. Like your friend with the dogs, it left an indelible imprint in a different way, than those who could only be afraid, and stand by helpless from the distant sidelines. Your work here helps show the power of those who could do something, how each person came in with their expertise and served. We appreciated them, every person who helped was appreciated by all of us who were a part of the pain. This is a well written piece and I truly thank you for sharing it with us all. I hope everyone gets a chance to know about your friend's work and reads it on the cover of OS. R
This was wonderful. It is greta that someone took care fo them also unlike the those who did the searching and now cannot even get extra health care for their problems caused by inhaling the debris.
Rated with hugs
Oh boy, do I like Mike!!!!! I think veterinarians are a special kind of human being. And there should be some kind of award comparable to a Congressional Medal of Honor for every canine hero who worked endlessly on that grisly pile. Wonderful tribute, Muse. Thanks for sharing Mike with us.

This story is so amazingly wonderful, you are blessed to have a friend like Mike. He and the dogs are all that is meant by love and service.
I wish we had heard more of this story at the time, a ray of light in a dark season. rated with love.
What an amazing story. I wonder if the dogs could write their own stories, what they would say. Your friend Mike is as much a hero as the dogs that did this gruesome work. Very well written.
What an incredible tribute to Mike and to the other survivors of tragedy. Our precious animals also suffer the blows of terrorism and are seldom mentioned. You wrote this so well and with such deep empathy for all those who give of their time and skills so selflessly. Really wonderful and the photos are amazing.
Wow, what an incredible story. Thank you for writing it so well. I will be sharing this.
This is one of the best posts I've read about 9-11. I don't know why I've never thought of the dogs. They were all in the middle of this mess. Please tell Mike I said thank you. He is a credit to mankind!
I can hardly read through the tears. Heroes all and beautifully honored here. So many thanks to them and now to you.
A powerfully written and stunning appreciation of your hero and the hero dogs he treated. What a unique look at this awful event.

This is a great story, wonderfully told.

I was completely unaware of the efforts of the sniffer dogs and of veterinarians like Mike who saw to their well-being. My ignorance shocks me, shames me. Thank you so much for enlightening me.
I am left speechless...
Wow! Your friend is a real American hero along with his cannine patients. R
I just spoke with Mike and he is grateful for your kind remarks here in support of these amazing animals and toward remembering what they did in the aftermath of the attacks. When I put this piece together I was surprised that some online photos of Mike working at ground zero weren't there anymore...nor was a video I used to access about the efforts of vets, dogs and handlers at the M.A.S.H. unit. On friday I presented a 9-11 based activity for my second year high school art students. Many had never seen some of the iconic images before; they were only in second grade at the time. Thank you all for your comments. You make me glad that I posted this regardless of it's irregular seams. I am glad that Mike's story and the stories of the other workers and the heroic dogs has emerged for some who hadn't thought of it before today. I want to note again that Anton Antonowicz's piece was the one Mike emailed me and it's still the very best account I could find to share with you here. Antonowicz was there on the ground and the fact that this post shines with realism is a credit to his writing, not my own. With so many thanks and blessings to you all! :}
This is Dr. Mike signing in. Yes -- that Dr. Mike. I am completely overwhelmed by the Muse's comments. I am glad she is sharing some of her warmth and insights with all of you. She has been my muse for over 40 years. Yesterday was a sad day for me, as is every anniversary of 9/11. But I am very gratified to read the comments of those of you who have commented. The dogs have been too easily forgotten. What they did; the hardships they put up with are indelibly etched in my memory. Most of them are probably dead or retired now -- not because the site made them ill, but because it was 9 years ago. Gone, perhaps, but never forgotten. I will post an article I wrote for the State Veterinary Newsletter in 2001. That pretty much sums it all. Thank you all for caring.

September 27, 2001

It was the worst of times…and the best of times:

The terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was the worst disaster in America’s history. The devastation, death toll, sense of loss are almost impossible to describe. Yet, from the ashes of ground zero rose a countless number of heroes, both sung and unsung. Much credit should go to Mayor Giuliani and his incredible staff for taking control of this terrible situation within minutes of the first strike. In addition to the city’s top brass, firefighters, police officers, and ambulance personnel have been acknowledged, and greatly deserve that acknowledgement. There were also countless other heroes at the scene: National Guard troops, sanitation workers, truck drivers, construction workers, Verizon employees, Con Edison employees, doctors, nurses, people from the Red Cross and Salvation Army, search and rescue teams from all over the world, and a large number of very dedicated veterinarians, technicians, and other individuals from animal care organizations. And, of course, the dogs themselves.

Within hours after the collapse of the second tower, veterinarians and technicians began arriving at the scene. A temporary medical triage center was set up in a high school a block from the World Trade Center. There were no real facilities and the only supplies were those brought to the scene by the volunteers. By nightfall, the Suffolk County SPCA arrived with their brand new mobile animal spay and neuter hospital, appropriately named M.A.S.H. The SPCA officers parked the van on the street by the high school and began commandeering space and supplies. In 48 hours, the SPCA and veterinarians from Long Island and New York City had created a very functional emergency hospital on the street next to the van. Veterinarians and technicians began signing up for shifts to cover the triage center 24 hours a day. The triage center had over 400 visits in the first 14 days. The most common problems were eye irritation from dust, cut and injured feet and legs, and dehydration. A few dogs were brought in with life-threatening medical problems: shock, collapse, convulsions, near asphyxiation from dust. These were treated on the scene and then sent to The Animal Medical Center. No dogs were lost.

I went down to the scene on 17 days between September 11th and September 27th, bringing supplies from AMC and offering my services as an emergency medicine/critical care specialist. I met dozens of wonderful volunteer search and rescue dogs: Ammo, Pork Chop, Kilo, Kane, Wuss, Ranger, Trooper, Bravo, Max, Ricky, Jimmy, Big Foot, to name a few. These dogs and their handlers came from France, Canada, Puerto Rico, California, Illinois, Utah, Florida, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Michigan, Nebraska and all of the states close to New York. In addition, there were military dogs, FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) dog teams, and police and fire department dogs from all around New York State. The US Public Health Service activated VMATs (Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams) and dispatched them to the scene. It was exhilarating to see everybody pitch in and work together to support these wonderful dogs. It was amazing to see a fully-functional emergency hospital spring from the ground in a very short time. It was heart-warming to see the truckloads of supplies and donations by private citizens, pharmaceutical companies, veterinary distributors, and other businesses. It was the worst of times…and the best of times. I have never been prouder to be a veterinarian.
Simply awesome story; one I hadn't heard before. Thank you for posting this.
Thank God for people like you, Mike. Thank God for the dogs who did so much and were cared for so well by you and your team.
Mike: Glad you checked in here. I want to personally thank you for your service to our nation on those terrible days, and of course send a lot of thanks and love to those very special dogs who did what they could to help.
Amazing story, Becky, masterfully told. And the photos are heartrending. Thank you for pointing me here. ~r
Great to hear from Dr Mike himself. Just amazing to read : " No dogs were lost." True best friends. Thanks B.
I have no words, I'm grateful for those who serve, dogs and people. Thank you for telling this.
PM and Dr. Mike, what amazing people you are and what an inspiring story, thank you so much for this post and both of your comments.
Wonderful story Muse. Dogs are truly special and so are the people who helped amid this horrific event.
Fantastic post and a lovely tribute, PM.
Incredible story and wonderful friend, I thank him for his service. Best to you both.
This story is amazing as is your telling.
Becky, thank you for posting this and Dr Mike, thank you for everything, then and since. What an honor and privilege to read this powerful and moving story. Thank you for writing down this important piece of history. Blessings on you both.
Thank you Persistent Muse and thank you Dr. Mike both for sharing your stories. I also never realized the dogs were on the front lines and never realized how hard they worked and how much danger they were in. Just to hear "No dogs were lost" made me my heart sing. Credit to you Dr. Mike and your dogs for working tirelessly to aid the effort of this tragedy. That last shot (uncredited) just touched me in the way few photos have.
Overall, what an awesone post. One that I will never forget.
Thank you so much for making me aware.
Muse, this was a wonderful post, and these were wonderful comments to return to this morning, after a weekend of the grotesque on OS. I almost could not bring myself to log in this morning, and am glad now that I did. Thank you Dr. Mike and those very good dogs.
It is nice to get to know other people in Mike's life. We shared a lot of laughs in high school- especially "what the hell was I doing in calculus class with him." I was able to see him in NYC two years ago and saw him in action consulting. Nothing like "meeting" people in Champaign!
This summer my son's dog developed some real problems and I reached out to Mike - he replied in an o so classy way - even though the dog passed - just communicating with an old friend made it much easier.
To paraphrase Harry Truman, " If you want a friend anywhere, get a dog!"
Love the story and the last photo...
Reposted. Like many of you I've so many thoughts and feelings today. Love to all who have endured and persisted so very long and so very well in the face of ultimate sacrifices.