Pool  /  Reuters file
A canine officer and his dog take a much needed rest September 18, 2001 after search duty at the World Trade Center site, one week after the attacks on New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C.
updated 9/27/2004 1:53:01 PM ET 2004-09-27T17:53:01

Search-and-rescue dogs deployed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks suffered cuts and scrapes but no serious short-term effects from exposure to the disaster sites, according to research by the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

In a three-year study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Penn veterinarians found that dogs exposed to asbestos and other hazards from the New York and Washington, D.C., attacks did not suffer higher rates of cancer than dogs trained to find live victims or cadavers elsewhere.

“We don’t have any evidence that we can associate (cancer) with their work at 9/11, but it’s still early,” said lead researcher Cynthia Otto, who teaches critical care at Penn’s veterinary school.

Researchers tracked 97 dogs and their handlers deployed to the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon and the Fresh Kills Landfill site on Staten Island, where debris was further searched for human remains. These dogs were compared with a control group of search-and-rescue dogs not sent to these sites.

Sentinel for human diseases
The dogs, mostly German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers, on average were 5 years old and spent 10 days searching at one of the sites in September 2001.

X-rays showed no apparent lung abnormalities from exposure to asbestos or other airborne pollutants, according to the study.

“We were concerned about respiratory problems ... things like coughing,” Otto said. “There were no cases of lung cancer in the dogs that have died.”

Fifteen of the dogs have died since October 2001, eight from cancer.

Dr. Stuart Helfand, a veterinary oncologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine, said cancer is common for the breeds studied and low rates of health problems should be good news for the handlers. “Dogs are often a sentinel for diseases for people,” Helfand said. “They walk through things, they sniff, their nose is little closer to the environment than people might be.”

Dogs also have shorter life spans, and any disease or cancer would show up in a shorter amount of time, Helfand said.

Initial blood samples showed higher antibody levels than the control group, according to the study.

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“But in the second year the immune response had gone back to normal. None of the levels were scarily high,” Otto said.

Handlers completed questionnaires about their dogs’ behaviors, such as aggression or fearfulness, to assess their psychological well-being.

Bobbie Snyder said her 7-year-old yellow Labrador, Willow, got a little dehydrated while working on the World Trade Center site just after Sept. 11, 2001, but hasn’t shown any other ill effects.

The pair returned to New York last month to be on call for the Republican National Convention.

“She’s a very laid back, very easygoing Labrador,” said Snyder, of Williamstown, N.J. “She’s had no problems. Everything is great.”

Otto said she plans to continue studying the dogs for any long-term health effects.

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