Goodbye, Twenty

The New York City Fire Department suffered a tremendous loss this past week when Twenty the Dalmatian died.

For nearly 15 years, this dog has been a proud member of FDNY. Shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2oo1, two sherriffs from Rochester, NY, delivered a dalmation puppy to Ladder 20 company. Ladder 20 Company needed a morale boost — the kind that only a puppy can bring — after seven of its members perished on the 35th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

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This beauty served alongside her human counterparts and provided a bit of hope in the dark days that followed 9/11.

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On FDNY’s Facebook page, Lieutenant Gary Iorio wrote about Twenty: “She really helped to build the morale in the years following 9/11. I can’t say enough about what she did to help us. She went on all the runs, she’d jump in the truck, stick her head out the window and bark. She became a local celebrity.”23570975983_c73229705a_b.jpg

Dalmatians have been affiliated with fire stations since the 1800s, and I’d venture to guess that none was as beloved as Twenty. Because early fire stations used horse-drawn wagons as fire engines, they also employed Dalmatians. It seems that Dalmatians are able to bond closely with horses, and because horses tend to be afraid of fire, Dalmatians were essential. Early accounts tell of horses being afraid to approach a fire and of Dalmatians distracting and comforting those horses, which allowed the fire wagons to get closer to the fire.

Lieutenant Iorio posted this sweet send-off to his colleague Twenty: “We offer our heartfelt thanks to her for being a loyal companion to FDNY members and the community for nearly 15 years. Today, Twenty has taken her final run to Heaven. Rest in peace, man’s best friend.”

Upon learning of Twenty’s death, FDNYdispatchers transmitted a specific message: 5-5-5-5. The fire code, which has been used in New York fire stations since 1870, signals the death of a firefighter.

5-5-5-5 for Twenty means she has been officially released from duty, and that her job has been done.

RIP, Twenty. twenty_dalm-808x500.jpg

Want more stories of hardworking, hero dogs? Read this. 

 

 

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9/11 and cancer

Remember seeing this photo in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001?

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Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images

Marcy Borders, who came to be known as “the Dust Lady” survived the WTC attack after fleeing her office on the 81st floor of the North Tower. She was 28 years old. That terrible day set off a chain of events that ended tragically: on Monday, Marcy Borders died, at age 42, from stomach cancer.

Borders suspected a connection between the terrorist attacks and her cancer. In an online interview, she wondered if her experience on that terrible day caused her cancer: “I’m saying to myself, ‘Did this thing ignite cancer cells in me? I definitely believe it because I haven’t had any illnesses. I don’t have high blood pressure … high cholesterol, diabetes. …  How do you go from being healthy to waking up the next day with cancer?”

That’s a question many of us have asked. Whether young or old, the question of how one goes from healthy to cancer-ridden remains, and that question can haunt those of us who have stared into the eyes of the beast that is cancer.

For those who were at Ground Zero, that haunting question becomes a common refrain. It’s hard to know just how many cancer diagnoses resulted from events surrounding the terrorist attacks, but we do know that first responders and civilians fleeing the towers were exposed to a nasty combination of carcinogens. This toxic dust is likely responsible for the fact that people present in the terrorist attacks have gotten certain cancers — skin and prostate cancers as well as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and mesothelioma — at significantly higher rates than people in the regular population. Even now, more than a decade later, the lingering health effects remain unknown, but experts suspect the full extent of cancer and 9/11 will begin to emerge, as it has with Marcy Borders.

Photographer Michael McAuliff was also at Ground Zero on September 11, covering the events for ABC News. He too wondered how his health was affected by the dust that covered Marcy Borders and everyone else in the vicinity. He collected and saved the dust that covered him as he worked on September 11, 2001, and recently submitted the dust and his computer bag he carried that day for testing. When the test results arrived, McAuliff discovered:

“About half the material was ‘non-fibrous’ including polystyrene foam, vermiculite mineral, combustion product (carbon soot), mineral dust of gypsum, calcite, dolomite and quartz. The other half was fibrous material including “cellulose (wood and paper fragments), fibrous glass such as glass wool with yellow resin coating, Fiberglass, colorless mineral wool, refractory ceramic fibers, limestone, calcites, carbon fibers, synthetics (including fragments of cloth) and chrysotile asbestos associated with the lime and carbonate insulation debris. Also found were ‘additional chemical signatures of silicates, kaolin clays, pigments (TiO2), calcites, dolomites, carbonates, metal complexes (sub-micron chromium, aluminum/iron matrices) and chrysotile asbestos.’ Metals included small amounts of lead, chromium, zinc and cadmium.”

McAuliff seems to have dodged a bullet and has received a clean bill of health. Unlike Marcy Borders.

Surviving the terrorist attack was just the beginning of a long battle for her. In an interview, Borders said “it was like my soul was knocked down with those towers.” Her battered soul endured depression and drug addiction. “My life spiraled out of control. I didn’t do a day’s work in nearly 10 years, and by 2011 I was a complete mess. Every time I saw an aircraft, I panicked. I started smoking crack cocaine, because I didn’t want to live.”

Ten years later, Borders decided she did indeed want to live, and in April 2011 she entered rehab. She worked hard to reclaim her life and move forward. She got sober and committed herself to putting that terror behind her, saying “The anniversary of (9/11) gives me no fear. I’ve got peace now. I’m not afraid of anything. I try to take myself from being a victim to being a survivor now. I don’t want to be a victim anymore.”

Rest in peace, Marcy Borders, and know that you are much more than “the Dust Lady.” You are proof that we can endure terrible things and come away with peace.


Hero dogs

Today, on the 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, I’m thinking of the dogs who assisted in the search & rescue at Ground Zero in New York City. Some heroes have 4 legs. 

Photographer Charlotte Dumas has profiled many of those 4-legged  heroes in her book RetrievedIt’s on my wish list.

One of the dogs in Retrieved is Bretagne (pronounced Brittany), a Golden Retriever who is reported to be the only surviving rescue dog from the Twin Towers disaster (one other dog, a springer spaniel named Morgan who worked at the Fresh Kills site at Staten Island, is still alive). A Golden Retriever is also on my wish list, BTW.

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newyorkpost.com

Bretagne was trained in and lives in a suburb near mine in the great state of Texas. Her very first assignment was search & rescue at Ground Zero. She was just 2 years old when she was deployed, along with her handler Denise Corliss.

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The absence of any human survivors at Ground Zero was unimaginably difficult for everyone involved in the recovery effort — including the dogs. Despite the fruitless search, the dogs worked tirelessly among the perilous conditions that included broken glass, twisted metal, and hazardous emissions. The human searchers were protected by heavy gloves, boots, and masks; the dogs, however, relied on their bare paws for balance, their exposed claws for traction, and their sensitive noses for any whiff of human remains.

newyorkpost.com

newyorkpost.com

Bretagne spent 2 weeks working 12-hour shifts in the dangerous conditions. Her handler recalls that on her very first search, Bretagne slipped on a metal beam that was wet from the fire hoses that still doused the smoldering wreckage. Corliss was nervous, but said that Bretagne “pulled herself  back up onto the beam with her front paws and continuing to sniff intently as if nothing had happened.”

Another rescue dog perseveres among dangerous conditions

Another rescue dog perseveres among dangerous conditions

Corliss recalls how Bretagne seemed to make a point of putting herself in front of weary first responders. Several times, Bretagne left Corliss’ side to greet shell-shocked firefighters. Corliss gave the command for Bretagne to come back, sit and stay, but was rebuked. Corliss was shocked that the usually well behaved dog disobeyed: “I was surprised that she wasn’t listening to me, but she really wasn’t — it was like she was flipping me the paw.”

One of the veterinarians who looked after the search & rescue dogs at Ground Zero founded the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. Dr Cindy Otto realized that the dogs working at Ground Zero supplied much more than search & rescue or recovery: they provided great comfort to the first responders. She says, “You’d see firefighters sitting there, unanimated, stone-faced, no emotion, and then they’d see a dog and break out into a smile. Those dogs brought the power of hope. They removed the gloom for just an instant — and that was huge because it was a pretty dismal place to be.”

Animal Planet

Animal Planet

At the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, the puppies in training are named after the dogs who worked Ground Zero. Bretagne met her namesake, who now lives with a man who has Type 1 diabetes. Bretagne 2 alerts her new master if his blood-sugar levels get out of whack.

newyorkpost.com

newyorkpost.com

Cheers to Bretagne and the next generation of  4-legged heroes. May your treats be plentiful and your belly rubs never-ending.


Signs of life

IMG_0600Yesterday I wrote about the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks and my friend M, who I met through this little blog, sent me this photo. It’s the new Freedom Tower, built on the site on which the former World Trade Center stood. M and her son visited New York City this summer and happened upon this beautiful convergence of the financial district skyline and the new building as the sun was setting. The result: a stunning light shining from the new tower.

Looking at the play of light suffuses me with warmth, and it calls to mind the visual my yoga teacher uses while instructing us to concentrate on our breath. She says to imagine our slow, long, belly-tightening exhale as a plume of breath exiting through a small hole in the top of our heads. A concentrated ridding of toxins and stale air. That’s what I think of when I see M’s photo: out with ruin, in with new life. Signs of life.

The Freedom Tower stands 1,776 feet tall and, according to the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation,”serves as a beacon of freedom, and demonstrates the resolve of the United States, and the people of New York City.”

Surrounding the tower is the Reflecting Absence memorial, which pays tribute to the 2,986 men and women who died on that terrible day. I visited the memorial in February while on a girls’ trip with my bestie Yvonne, and I still haven’t found the words to describe the experience. It was a brutally cold, insanely windy day — I think the temperature was 27 degrees, which is this Texan’s version of hell — but the discomfort the weather provided seemed fitting as I began my trek toward the memorial. I walked from our Times Square hotel to Lower Manhattan, freezing my tail off the entire way. This idyllic shot of Central Park blanketed in snow looks tranquil, but within that tranquility were some mighty cold temps. IMG_0862

As I reached the Financial District, I noticed an increased police presence around the memorial — a sad reminder of the lasting effects of the terrorist attacks. Ditto the incredibly long process of getting through security to enter the memorial.

The memorial contains two giant pools of cascading water, each set where the Twin Towers used to be. The walls of water are the largest man-made waterfalls in the United States, and the deep, dark pit in their centers are an incredibly powerful symbol. The brochure from the memorial says that the pools are intended to be “a reminder of the Twin Towers and of the unprecedented loss of life from an attack on our soil.”

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The names of those killed that day in New York City, Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon are inscribed onto waist-level granite surrounding the pools. The six victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing are included as well. Seeing all the names is powerful, especially upon the realization that the names stretch all the way around the massive pools. Seeing multiple references to unborn children is crushingly sad.

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I wonder if the friends and families of those who perished gain some smidgen of comfort from seeing and touching the names. I wonder if those friends and families are at all buoyed by the fact that random people like me, who never knew their loved ones, are moved so deeply by seeing those names etched into the panels.

I also wonder why we need signs such as the one pictured below. Do people really have to be told not to scratch or sit on the panels containing the names?

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And do people need to be told not to throw anything into the pools? Were I to see someone scratching, sitting or throwing things in this sacred place, I’d be sorely tempted to push them into one of the pools. IMG_0889

A shot of the Freedom Tower while still under construction.IMG_0879

The Survivor Tree, pictured below, is yet another symbolic piece of the memorial. (Apologies to the unnamed tourists who ended up in my photos.)

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According to the memorial’s blog, The Memo, this tree endured the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center. A few weeks after the attack, the blackened, leafless tree was discovered in the rubble in the plaza of the World Trade Center. The ornamental pear tree was originally planted in the 1970s between buildings in the World Trade Center complex. Before September 11, the tree was tall and full. When it was uncovered after the attack, it was an 8-foot-tall stump with broken roots.  “The tree is a testament to our ability to endure,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. After the attack, the tree was nursed back to health at a nursery in the Bronx, where caretaker Richie Cabo said “It looked like a wounded soldier. When I first saw it, I thought it was unlikely it would survive.”

By the spring of 2002, though,  the tree showed signs of life, and Cabo knew the Survivor Tree would survive. “It represents all of us,” said Cabo. and the then-8-foot-tall stump with broken roots is now a 30-foot tall thing of beauty and is a popular site at the memorial.

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Like most of us, the Survivor Tree has faced hard times and has seen better days. Uprooted and damaged, yet showing signs of life.

As I left the memorial on that frigid day in February, I took one last look at the Survivor Tree and smiled as I noticed the tightly-closed buds forming on the branches. While it was still too cold and too early in the year for those buds to open and unfurl their renewal, they were there. Showing signs of life. 

Leaving the memorial, the wind whipped in between the Financial District’s buildings. The sun dipped out of sight, and the temperature seemed to drop even lower. My feet hurt from my cross-town walk, and my face ached from being the only part of my body exposed to the cold. But my heart was warmed by the Survivor Tree, and by this random tourist in her chicken hat.

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This day in history

September 11, 2001. A day that changed our lives. It’s been referred to as this generation’s Kennedy assassination — everyone remembers where they were when it happened. As the unbelievable images flooded the TV and the tragedy unfolded, our brains struggled to comprehend the horror of what was happening in Lower Manhattan.

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time.com

Four planes hijacked and intentionally crashed into three buildings — both towers of the World Trade Center in NYC and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. That third plane crashed into a remote area of Pennsylvania before it could reach its intended target.

I was pregnant with my favorite girl on this fateful day. My #1 son was a toddler in the throes of the terrible twos, and life was hectic. The day before the attack, I suffered what I thought was a terrible thing. I had my ultrasound to check the development and health of my unborn child. We wanted that child’s gender to be a surprise, as it was with my first pregnancy. So many things in this life of ours are structured and scheduled and planned to the hilt that the idea of hearing my OB-GYN say “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” very much appealed to me. My sweet mama, however, did not like that plan because it thwarted her shopping efforts for my unborn children. That motivated YaYa wanted to buy pink or blue, not gender-neutral colors. She disapproved, but I held firm, and we were indeed surprised and delighted to learn of that first baby’s gender at the moment he entered the world.

The men in my husband’s family like to close ranks, and produce lots and lots of boys. My hub is one of four boys, as is his dad and one uncle. There were 14 boys born in a row in that family. Girls seem to not be on the menu, and the hub’s family predicted yet another boy for the clan. When my #1 son entered the world in 1999, they likely smiled smugly at the interloper (me) who insisted there was a 50/50 chance either way. Boy or girl didn’t matter to me; either one would be great.

Fast forward a couple of years later and again I pursued my surprise. Despite the family history of lots of boys, I still didn’t want to know until that child’s birthday. At the ultrasound on September 10, 2001, we peered over my big belly to peek at the fuzzy image on the monitor. The baby on the screen appeared quite clearly and cooperated fully in our efforts to count fingers & toes while avoiding glimpses of the boy- or girl-parts. That baby cooperated fully, but did it with his/her right arm laid across his/her face, as if to convey the inconvenience he/she suffered as he/she afforded us a quick glimpse into that underwater world. Little did we know that this dramatic gesture in utero would prove to be a harbinger of things to come.

We laughed about the dramatic gesture but did not speculate as to the gender of the child-to-be who would act that way, even before being born. We were clear about not wanting to know. We reiterated our wish to be surprised. We said it multiple times in multiple ways. And still, the doctor slipped. My heart was broken.

I went to bed with a heavy heart and a perhaps misguided anger toward that blabby-mouthed doctor. I awoke to images on The Today Show that made no sense. My pity party was officially over.

A few months later, a baby girl was born.

The all-boy trend came to a screeching halt, and sugar & spice became the fragrance du jour. Trucks, dinosaurs, and baseballs were joined by fluffy stuffed toys, floral patterns, and giant hair bows.

Twelve years later, my #1 son and my favorite girl will discuss the al-Qaeda attacks in their social studies classes. A lot has changed in the 12 years since the terrorist attacks. My busy toddler is now a 9th grader, and that dramatic baby in my tummy is a 6th grader. Twelve years later, my little darlings are not all that little anymore, and before long they’ll be spreading their wings and setting off on their grown-up lives. The world is a different place now than it was before the terrorist attacks. More dangerous? Perhaps. Less secure? Certainly, at least in our minds.

We will never forget.

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googleimages.com