Today — Bretagne (pronounced “Brittany”), a whip-smart golden retriever with feathery fur and a sunny smile, lived an adventure-packed life until the very end. In recent weeks, though, she began experiencing kidney failure and slowing down. When Bretagne failed to do her favorite thing for three consecutive days — eat — her owner Denise Corliss realized it was time to say goodbye.
“She was really anxious last night and she just wanted to be with me,” Corliss told TODAY on Monday. “So I laid down with her, right next to her. When she could feel me, she could settle down and go to sleep. I slept with her like that all night.”
Denise Corliss and her husband Randy Corliss brought Bretagne to Fairfield Animal Hospital in Cypress, Texas, where the dog received a special send-off from admirers of her years of service. In addition to scouring the pile at Ground Zero in New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bretagne and Corliss deployed as a search team in response to Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Ivan and other disasters.
Representatives from Texas Task Force 1, the Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department and other agencies stood at attention and saluted Bretagne as she entered the veterinary office on Monday afternoon. They saluted Bretagne again as she departed the animal hospital with her body draped in an American flag.
“This was a very small way for us to pay tribute to a dog who truly has been a hero,” Cy-Fair Volunteer Fire Department Captain David Padovan told TODAY. “Just because she’s a K9 doesn’t make her any less part of our department than any other member.”
Bretagne was to be transported in a formal procession from Fairfield Animal Hospital to Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. There, she will undergo an autopsy as part of a long-running study of 9/11 search dogs.
“(Bretagne’s) partnership with Denise Corliss was magical,” said Dr. Cindy Otto, a veterinarian with the Penn Vet Working Dog Center who has spent years tracking the health of 9/11 dogs. “The two of them touched lives throughout their careers together, not only in search and rescue but even after her retirement.”
Bretagne retired from formal search work at age 9, but she never lost her love of adventure or her work ethic. Her retirement years turned out to be almost as epic as her younger years, in large part because Corliss realized Bretagne needed tailor-made physical and mental stimulation as she aged.
At age 13, Bretagne began experiencing so much stiffness and joint pain that she could no longer climb the stairs in her home. Corliss installed an above-ground pool in her backyard and helped Bretagne to swim in it for at least 10 minutes a day.
Bretagne made national news at age 15 when she returned to Ground Zero with Corliss for the first time since the 2001 terrorist attacks. NBC News’ Tom Brokaw interviewed Corliss at the 9/11 Memorial and also spent time with Bretagne, who was a 2014 finalist for the American Humane Association’s annual Hero Dog Awards.
Damn… just… I don’t know man, I have no words. I don’t know how you can do justice to what it’s like to lose a dog like this. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt worse for a person than I feel for Denise Corliss right now.
I mean, think about that for a second. Think about the connection you have with your dog. Think about the friendship, the loyalty, the comfort, the affection. Think about the shitty times in your life that–as weird as it may sound–your dog got your through. Think about the tiny little moments, where you’re in a bad mood or had a tough day or whatever, and how your dog nestled up to you on the couch or pawed at your leg to play. Think about that, and how it was basically built on nothing more than your dog just wanting to be your friend.
And now think about Bretagne and Denise. Bretagne and Denise, who spent ten of the worst days in American history together, searching through the rubble and ash at Ground Zero, risking their own lives, risking each others lives, just to help out some complete strangers in a time of need. Think about the bond that builds. Think about that connection. That’s something few will ever understand… and something we should hope we never need to understand.
I know Bretagne lived a full life. I know she was honored last year in New York, and that she was as well-rewarded in her later years for all the heroism and service she provided not just at Ground Zero, but also after Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, Hurricane Ivan and other national disasters. I know she was put to sleep gracefully, and will be remembered as fondly as any dog that’s ever walked this green earth. But that doesn’t make this any less sad. And it doesn’t change the unfair reality that the best dogs will live shorter lives than the worst humans.
RIP Bretagne, and some real, genuine thoughts for Denise, who’s heroism in those ten days following 9/11 can’t be overlooked either. Sad day.
P.S. Here’s the video of Bretagne’s final walk into the vet’s office. Fair warning, you’re going to cry.