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Here's The Story Behind That Moving Twitter Thread About 9/11 Search And Rescue Dogs

"Working dogs will kill themselves trying to accomplish the job for their handler. It’s a massive responsibility."

Posted on September 15, 2019, at 10:43 a.m. ET

Preston Keres / US Navy

Amid all the 9/11 tributes this year, both in real life and online, one Twitter thread by a hunter and podcaster from New Hampshire stood out.

Andrew Schatz, who runs a kennel of hunting dogs in New Hampshire, knows the trials that search and rescue canines go through. He decided to thread the stories of 28 dogs who worked search and rescue on that dark day.

Riley is the subject of the most famous K9 photo from 9/11. Riley was trained to find living people and was not trained to be a cadaver dog. Despite this he continued to work tirelessly. Riley passed away on 2/26/10

On the night before the anniversary, Schatz told BuzzFeed News, he compiled a list of the dogs.

"I don’t really know what prompted me [to do it] if I am totally honest," he said. "I started tweeting at 12:01 a.m., and when I woke up around 7 a.m. it maybe had three or four likes. I kept going and a few of my friends retweeted it. Eventually KFC from Barstool Sports retweeted it, and it just took off from there."

The research wasn’t easy. Schatz started with a broad search of which dogs were involved, and then tried to find multiple sources to cross-reference the information. Finding the right details proved to be tricky.

"I had one big mistake in the thread that’s been eating at me. The photo I used for K-9 Appollo and his handler was actually of Officer Lemma and K-9 Felix," he said.

Trakr was driven down from Nova Scotia by his handler. He found the last known survivor from ground zero, Genelle Guzman. When his handler, Symington, was seen on TV by his department in Canada, he was suspended for leaving without permission. Trakr died in April of 09

"Lemma’s daughter reached out to me on Twitter. She was very nice about it and appreciative, but it turned out that multiple sources had previously used his photo instead of Appollo’s when discussing Appollo. So despite my research and cross-referencing, I still screwed up," he said. "We are trying to fix the Wikipedia article for Appollo that uses Officer Lemma and Felix’s photo."

George Best / Getty Images

Peter Davis, a New York police K-9 officer, and his search and rescue dog, Appollo.

Despite these challenges, the overall result was a poignant look at some of the often overlooked rescue efforts from the day — and the thread went viral.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would have 21 million impressions and over 300,000 likes in 24 hours," Schatz said. "The really remarkable thing to me is how few negative comments there were, especially given the anonymity of Twitter."

"I saw a few 9/11 truthers comment and one woman from the Democratic Socialists of America calling it animal abuse. Besides that, it was just a lot of appreciative people who never really thought about what those dogs went through or only knew a few of them," he said.

Schatz hopes the search and rescue community will get more attention after this thread.

"I think anyone who works with dogs has a massive appreciation for what those handlers went through," he said. "They are responsible for reading their dogs and knowing when to shut them down, but also having the pressure of trying to find survivors knowing every minute matters."

"Working dogs will kill themselves trying to accomplish the job for their handler. It’s a massive responsibility," he said. "You have bonded with that dog for years with hundreds if not thousands of hours of training. You are then thrown into what is easily the most difficult recovery effort ever seen. [The] Oklahoma City bombing was probably the most comparable to that point."

The best way to compare the training effort, he said, is to playing catch with a dog.

"Twelve hours a day for 10 days straight, you are pretending to throw a ball and the dog is looking for it only to never find it," he said. "I am amazed any of those dogs were able to work again. They feel failure and know when the outcome isn’t positive."

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