Article by Frank T. Shane, B.C.E.T.S. Executive Director of K-9 Disaster Relief
K-9 Disaster Relief became a non-profit 501 (c) 3 humanitarian organization in 2001. It is unique for many reasons, especially because 100% of all its resources and donations go directly to providing services such as the K-9 for Kids outreach program. This program began while K-9 Disaster Relief was providing services on Ground Zero from September 2001 – May 28, 2002.
K-9 for Kids was inspired by a simple act of kindness by a twelve year-old girl from the Midwest. Michele Kidd wanted to send her love and appreciation to Ground Zero ~ the idea was to make heart shaped pins with a ribbon. Her intrepid trip to New York and Ground Zero is featured in the article “Red Jeep Rescue.”
The 9/11 Memorial Museum offers interactive programs for younger visitors ~ “Stories and Art.” The drop-in-art activities are in the Museum’s educational classroom every Saturday. The special program – “K-9 for Kids” – is offered on the first Saturday of the month at 3 PM. Nikie’s son “Chance” comes to share the stories and help with the art program.
Nikie, my 120-pound affable golden retriever, enabled me to work on the 16-acre Ground Zero site for 9 -months. Nikie was my trusted partner who became everyone’s best friend. He offered love and kindness, but most of all, his canine presence allowed me to do my work as a disaster relief trauma counselor. Simply put, day-by-day, workers accepted Nikie as a co-worker who they could talk to or just have moments of quiet reflection. As a trauma responder, I was able to both listen through Nikie, and in some cases provide services for those suffering from traumatic stress. We were a human-animal team helping each other to alleviate the emotional pain of fellow workers.
But, that was 14-years ago. On May 28, 2002 I left Ground Zero – It was over! On that day, Ground Zero would begin its next phase of becoming a reconstruction site. As Nikie’s friends streamed off the site, we headed to his infamous red Jeep. He had the Teddy Bear from Christmas – a treasured gift.
Like hundred of other times, I would remove his red working vest and he would fall asleep with his head on my lap.This time was different. The red vest would never be worn again. His boots, scarf and I.D. would be put away. Drawing, pins and artifacts were carefully boxed up.
Nikie had friends from Ground Zero who would often call me to see how he was doing. “Hey, is Nikie there?” I sensed a need for them to reconnect – a need to talk – “someone” like Nikie who understood – – and most importantly, someone who would not judge the heartbreak of how working on Ground Zero changed there lives. For many, the change was not good. Nikie’s life also changed. On the rare occasions that he would reconnect with one of his friends, I would always be at a watchful distance. These were emotional moments and it was important not to break the unspoken bond of trust and acceptance.
Nikie died quietly in his sleep on April 4, 2004. Soon after, I took out his possessions that had been boxed up in the closet. Somehow I felt better seeing his vest, flag scarf, and boots. Nikie was a stoic dog and he had a majestic presence. I would get letters and photos from his friends. Every photo showed him proudly wearing his vest. He loved wearing it to work. It gave him a sense of self-worth and purpose. He was a worker – he had a job! As months went by, I realized that his vest meant a lot to others too.
He was considered a worker, As Ground Zero became a family of workers, whether a firefighter, volunteer or laborer, the brotherhood of these men and women included Nikie. His vest was not just a vest. Firefighters would make sure he wore a strobe light. Reflective safety patches were attached – – he had pins from every state and many countries. During a Presidential visit, a secrete service agent took his off and pinned it on his vest. I never really looked closely at all the pins and patches – – their were just too many and most were kept in his knapsack tote bag. After his passing, the 9/11 Memorial Museum cataloged all the pins and they are in the permanent arrive collection. Many are on display.
Everyone deals with death differently. Like Nikie’s artifacts, human emotions can be kept all boxed up. Life goes on, but eventually there is a moment or event that triggers an emotional response. The anniversary of Nikie’s death was that moment for me. In the kitchen I looked at the clock and realized it was the exact time he took his last breath when I held his head. I got the box out from the closet and spilled everything out on the table. The sent of his fur, collar and even Ground Zero was very powerful – I became emerged in looking and touching hundreds of pins and patches. A piece of marble with a photo of a firefighter was lodged in the bottom of his red nap sack. His favorite Teddy Bear from Christmas 2001 with notes and cards from children. For moments, it was a gift of remembrance, but I knew that to preserve his legacy, it needed a new home – that was the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Now his story can be told, and other will continue his work.
About the K-9 Disaster Relief – A non-profit humanitarian organization to help victims and children who are traumatized by disasters and critical incidents. This is achieved with handlers in Canine Disaster Relief Services and Critical Incident Stress Management. In addition to providing courses, community outreach, workshops and speaking appearances, the organization collaborates with schools, the National September 11 Memorial Museum and the 9/11 Tribute Center. www.K-DisasterRelief.org @K9Foundation #K9DisasterRelief info@K-9Disasterrelief.org
About the National September 11 Memorial Museum – It is the principal memorial and museum, respectively, commemorating the September 11 attacks of 2001, which killed 2,977 people, and the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, which killed six. The Memorial Museum is located at the World Trade Center site on the former location of the Twin Towers, which were destroyed during the attacks. www.911Memorial.org
About Frank T. Shane, B.C.E.T.S. – A pioneer in the field of Canine Disaster Relief Services and the Human-Animal-Bond. He is the founder and Executive Director of K-9 Disaster Relief. He holds multi-level certifications and is a Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress and Diplomat with the Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress and The National Center for Crisis Management. He teaches courses nationally in Canine Disaster Relief Services, Critical Incident Stress Management, Human-Animal-Bond and the Psychology and Behavior of Dogs. He is available for courses, outreach programs, and personal appearances.
About Canine Nikie – During the 9/11 recovery at World Trade Center – Ground Zero, Nikie, was the only credentialed dog certified in Canine Disaster Relief Services. This courageous canine worked tirelessly for nine months. He provided psychological support and crisis intervention. He was featured on Animal Planets “Hero Dogs of 9/11” and several books and documentaries, including: “Hero Dogs – Courageous Canines in Action,” “9/11:Stories of Courage, Heroism and Generosity” and “9/11:Hero of a Different Breed.” Nikie’s artifacts are on display at the National September 11 Memorial Museum. www.K-9Disasterrelief.org @K9Foundation #K9DisasterRelief info@K-9Disasterrelief.org