Bretagne, the last surviving Sept. 11 search dog until her death last year, will be honored with a life-size bronze statue today near Houston, Texas.
Bretagne’s friends and fans had scheduled the unveiling of her statue in the Houston suburb of Cypress long before Hurricane Harvey barreled through the region two weeks ago.
“People really do pull together in the worst of times,” Bretagne’s longtime handler and owner, Denise Corliss, 53, told Today. “There are so many first responders, and so many strangers, helping to save each other. … I’m so touched — dumbfounded, even — that people wanted to do something this special for Bretagne and felt so strongly about it. Bretagne has become a symbol for those who serve. This is about honoring all first responders.”
The statue was sculpted by Lena Toritch of Salt Lake City, Utah. She studied photographs of the Golden Retriever as she worked her art.
“The statue shows Bretagne in her prime, on her best day, when she was young and fresh and happy,” Toritch told Today. “I wanted to show her smile, her sweet disposition.
“I think it’s very symbolic for the statue not only to be unveiled on 9/11, but to be unveiled in the Houston area,” she continued. “It shows respect and gratitude for first responders and it honors the resilience of people who don’t want to stop living their lives.”
Bretagne (pronounced Brittany) and her owner first worked together at Ground Zero and went on to work other disasters during her years of service before retiring at age 9.
She and Corliss returned to Ground Zero when she was 15, as a finalist of the American Humane Association’s Hero Dog Awards and was interviewed by NBC’s Tom Brokaw at the site of the 9/11 memorial.
After she retired, she didn’t stop working, and served as reading assistance dog. In 2015 she was the star of a nonfiction book that covered senior dogs and visited the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, and met President George H.W. Bush. She died on June 13, 2016, in Cypress at the age of 16.
The statue created in her honor has a plaque at its base with a fitting inscription:
“Bretagne’s years of service remind all of us how to live our best possible lives. Although she is no longer with us, her spirit lives on through those who serve.”