9/11 Rescue: Some Of the Biggest Heroes Were Not Human

They didn't know about terrorism, violence, what was happening, or what caused it. They did, however, put their lives on the line for thousands on 9/11.

"They" are 300 dogs that helped find life beneath the rubble following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Animal Planet aired a special documentary Hero Dogs of 9/11 on Tuesday that highlights and honors these brave canines a part of the recovery effort during the tragedy's aftermath.

One of the stories was about Guzman-McMillan, who was working in her office on the 64th floor of the North Tower when she heard a deafening noise outside and felt the building collapse around her as she raced down the stairs. Twenty seven hours later, she became the last living person rescued from the rubble at Ground Zero when a rescue dog found her pinned under cement and steel.

"It's so awesome that the dogs could have this kind of sense, to find people buried under the rubble," Guzman-McMillan said in the documentary. "I felt total renewed life in me ... That was the most joyful moment." Even though doctors said Guzman-McMillan would never walk again, she defied all odds. She now walks, runs, is married, and has two daughters. 

Another amazing canine story on 9/11 is that of Michael Hingson, a blind World Trade Center employee who was was led 1,463 steps out of the building and into an underground subway station to safety by his yellow Labrador retriever, Roselle. "She saved my life," said Hinson. "While everyone ran in panic, Roselle remained totally focused on her job.While debris fell around us, and even hit us, Roselle stayed calm." Roselle died at age 13 in June 2011 and was named American Hero Dog of the Year. 

Hingson also remembers when a firefighter stopped to pet Roselle and hug her while leaving the building. Even though rescue dogs aren't supposed to be petted, Hingson said he doesn't regret what happened. "It was probably the last unconditional act of love he got," Hingson said about the fireman, who was later killed in the line of duty. 

These stories are a few of many that inspired documentary producer Tanya Kelen to dive deeper into the experiences of 9/11 survivors and the amazing work of rescue dogs, first responders, veterinarians, and dog trainers during the aftermath. In addition to helping find survivors, these dogs also helped find trinkets like jewelry that could be returned to victoms' families. Some canines served as therapy dogs to help survivors and even first responders cope with their emotional trauma on site. 

Frank Shane, a professional dog therapist and CEO of the K-9 Relief Foundation, brought his golden retriever, Nikie, down to Ground Zero. "He was the live teddy bear that would get people to come over and help me help them," Shane said. "Nikie became part of the fabric. People accepted me and my work without me having to say what that work was," said.

Many dogs were injured that day from stepping on debris or inhaling smoke. One bomb-detection dog, Sirius, was among the many innocents lost on that day. Their heroic feats, contributions, and comfort will never be forgotten.