By : Socks the Catt
©2002 Socks Furrotica Press, All rights reserved
September 21, 2001
I've meant to get more of this down, I mean hell, how often do you land in a fucking war zone? But the last week has been numb, just feeling numb. I'm not sure where to even start with all this, but I'll go back to some months ago.
Lucky and me decided together to enter into rescue a few months ago. I almost felt like I had to, the dreams wouldn't stop. At the time I thought it was just random stuff, but now I kinda know that something was at work here that I don't fully understand. Something was telling me to do what I did.
The dreams. Always the dreams. Lucky got me in touch with one of the elders in the pack, and after talking about my dreams we've decided that I'm sensitive to my past selves. And at something in my past, or I should say in my soul's past, wanted me to pick up the torch and go into the rescue program. Looking back, I think I need to talk to the elders again. There's more going on here.
But we both went into the rescue program. It was commented that dalmatians don't usually enter rescue, but since I was eager and didn't have a new skin, it would do to learn the basics. Responding to commands, staying on task, what to sniff for, agility tests, all the training. It really wasn't training as much as it was fun for me. We had kinda made plans for me to get something more appropriate for search and rescue, like a lab like Lucky or a Sheppard like Ricochet. But, I considered that long term planning. That was until the other Tuesday.
I got into work early to get everything ready for the day's news feeds. The new job isn't really unlike the old job, except I've got a lot more to do now. It's kinda nice to have more to do than just camera focusing, actually. It's a lot of tech work, but I like it. But I prefer to be on my end of the camera, not in the limelight.
One of the things about working in the media is how connected it all is. We get an AP news feed, faxes, satellites, it's actually a lot of incoming stuff to shove into an on-demand 5 minute web cast. We also run a local news channel for the cable TV network, all Chicago news, so there's some pressure on the job. But I love it. I had just gotten in for the morning shot with Lucky. He does a lot of the tech side in I.T. for the web casting, and networking the place. I went over to get a bottle of dew from the fridge, and headed into the control room. Said hello to a few people, most of us are packmates but we don't talk about it at work.
It was probably around 8 AM or so. That’s when the whole world changed. There's a few 'direct line' boxes, we call them "Squawk Boxes" or occasionally the "Voice of God". The only time they turn on is when we get news that is worthy to interrupt normal TV programming. It's the same feed that the major networks get. Just before 8 AM, the "Voice of God" spoke. "Stations, this is a priority one interrupt. An airplane just hit the World Trade Center. We are going live in two minutes on sat T-5. Again, an airplane just hit the World Trade Center in New York City. Please join our programming on T-5 in 2 minutes. Thank you."
That stopped everyone. It's not enough that the box sounds like the "Voice of God" when it goes off, and that you never hear this guy ever, but the message. We all froze. The first thing we all thought was it had to be a joke or we misheard it. I went to the satellite panel, pointed it at T-5 and tuned in. They had a pre-news slate up with a countdown.
We all looked at each other in shock. When it all comes down to it, the guys in the control room have to make decisions immediately if we should go to live programming or not. There was no debate, we would go live. I called Lucky and told him I needed to get streaming video out to the network immediately.
"Why? What's up?" he asked.
"A plane just hit the World Trade Center."
"Gimme five minutes." and he hung up. Meanwhile, the news feed went up, and in a minute we saw something we couldn't believe. The world trade was on fire. While we watched in shock another plane hit the south tower. Lucky was in the control room with me at the time. "Oh my god." he whispered. He wasn't the only one.
One of the higher ups, who isn't in the pack, came into the control room and asked why we were showing a movie on the network feed. We had to prove to him that it was not a movie. As the day went on, I couldn't believe what we were watching. "This isn't real" was a phrase we all kept on saying. It couldn't be real. When the Pentagon was hit, we all knew it was all too real. Before 11:00 both towers had collapsed, live on the network feed. And we heard about a plane in Pennsylvania that crashed into the ground, all before noon. It was all too real.
Around noon Lady came up to me. She's the elder that got me the job here in the first place. "We need to talk Spike." she whispered to me. One of the other guys covered for me, and I followed her to a conference room. Lucky was already there, as were a lot of other packmates. I wasn't the last one in either. Soon, the room was filled to standing with members of the pack.
"I talked to one of our New York members." Lady said to us all. "We all know what's going on. And they asked for our help. We all have skills that are in need. I already made an arrangement with a bus company, they'll take us to New York in a few hours. I know I'm asking a lot of you all, but I'm looking for volunteers."
A few hours later Lucky and I were on the bus to New York. They shut down every airport, so we're driving in. We sat in the back with the other members trained in search and rescue. We had packmates who had done volunteer firefighting, EMS, anything. We all wanted to help. We all talked about a lot of things, the most important was who would be the search dogs, and who wouldn't. Lucky was going to be one of the dogs, as he was good at it. I would also be a dog. Mostly because I was so new, I could fake it better as a new dog than as a new handler.
So me, Lucky, Louie, Dante and Ricochet all went down to fours on the way there. My "handler" is Tim, great guy who's usually a husky and someone who knows his stuff. We talked for a while between Indiana and Ohio just to get used to each other. As night fell he encouraged me to sit on his lap. "Sleep for a while Spike." he said to me. "Get all you can." I didn't know what he meant by that, but I tried to sleep.
Considering when we left Chicago, getting to New York Wednesday night was incredible. I didn't know how, or what happened, or anything else like that. All I know is that when we got to the area, we got a place to stay outside the city, and tried to rest. I think Lady or someone went ahead of us, to make sure they knew we were coming.
As a group, we got up early in the morning to get ready. The sun hadn't even come up yet. Tim helped me get into my rescue gear. A reflective vest, a harness, and some protective paw boots. It was awkward to wear them all this time, but you get used to it. In retrospect, I'm glad he thought of it. I was also holding a few things for him, like duct tape. He was in a full suit, hard hat, had a rebreather, hard knee pads, hiking boots, and the leash.
"Ok Spike. Ready to go?" He asked, kneeling next to me.
"Yeah, ready as I'll ever be." I said. I was scared, we were getting updates all the time to what was going on.
Tim nodded, and petted me on the head. "Ok, just follow my direction and you'll do fine." he said, patting my flank. He held my collar a moment, and I felt my voice box tighten up. "Ok, no more speech now. Let's go." I managed to see Lucky with Wendy, his "handler". She was dressed up much the same as Tim, and Lucky was in the same kind of thing I was in. We made eye contact, and he winked. I winked back to him, and we were off.
The military had some vehicles there to drive us into what's being called "Ground Zero". They've got lights up all around it and everything. We were greeted like heroes, even at 6 AM. On our way in we got a lot of cheering, like we were sports guys or something. I understand why people were watching, but it still felt awkward. When we arrived, the rescue was starting to take on a grim feeling. Common sense says that a person can't live without water for only so many days, and it had been a little less than two days since the collapse.
"Thank God you guy showed up!" someone said. I think it was a fireman. Things started to blur from there, but I think I don't want to remember most of it. But they were happy to see more rescue teams, and definitely happy to see rescue dogs. We were teamed up with firemen and asked to help search the area for survivors. I think that having the dogs there, I mean all us dogs, I think it was something that kinda lifted spirits.
I can't begin to describe what it was like. Ancestral memory tells me it was like a war zone, but it was like I envision hell. Everything was broken. Broken concrete, glass, rebar, and death. There was the smell of death all around. After being there for only a minute I felt like I was going to be sick, the smell of seared flesh was just too strong. I want to say you get used to it, but I never really did.
We worked a hard shift, literally sifting through the ruins for hours on hours. We'd search, they'd remova a layer, we'd search more. Tim gave commands to me, and I followed orders. I hate to admit to this, but I did find someone in the morning. Most of someone, anyhow. I knew she was dead when I caught her scent, but I did as I was supposed to. Scratch, point, "TIM!" I barked "HERE!" It was all barks to the world, but he knew. They got a crew over to where I was, and pulled out the body of a woman.
"You did good Spike." Tim said, petting me. I felt like I was going to cry. He knelt down next to me to give me a better scratching behind my ears.
I leaned into his shoulder and whimpered "I want to find a live one." Tim pulled away, and nodded. We went back in. We were on for almost ten or twelve hours, taking breaks when we needed to. We had to use the duct tape on my paw protectors because they were getting hacked up on the steel and glass. We did stop for a lunch. I will remember that, because one of the EMS people came over to us while we were resting.
"How's it going in there?" she asked.
"Not so good." Tim said. "Spike found one who didn't make it, I don't think he's too happy about it."
She knelt down next to me, and stroked me gently. "awww… You're gonna be ok kiddo!" she said to me. She looked to Tim and asked "Mind if I check him out?"
"Go ahead." Tim said.
"You're Spike, huh?" She said. She looked at my paws, my nose, my ears, I know what she was checking for. A lot of the other dogs were bleeding pretty badly when hey stuck their noses in places. She wasn’t a vet, but I did like the attention. All the time she spoke to me gently, nicely. "He's kinda cut up." She said. "Nothing bad, but make sure he's not bleeding too bad in this stuff. He needs a little water probably, but he's ok."
"Yeah, it's why we're taking the break." Tim said. "Anything good happen on your end?"
"We're doing all right." she said. "We've got a lot of bad scrapes. Someone lost a finger already." Tim nodded. "Just be careful in there, ok?"
Tim nodded. "Will do. You be careful too." She nodded as she went off to check on another member of the rescue teams.
"Who was she?" I asked quietly.
"No idea." Tim said. "Drink up, we gotta get back." I nodded sadly.
Myself and another dog, a real dog named Duke, homed in on one person before sunset. He smelled like he was still alive. I was barking as loud as I could for Tim, and they brought in the heavy tools to lift the cement chunks. It took a painfully long time, but they finally got someone in there to talk to the victim. The guy was barely conscious, but they pulled him out. Tim let me sit back and watch as they got out the board and strapped him to it for the transport out of the area.
That felt good, actually. It was the highlight, if you can call it that. I didn't realize we had been on the site for more than 12 hours before we were given some kind of reprieve. Tim and I barely walked out and into a transport to get back to the hotel. We made the trip in silence with all the other members of the pack. Once we got back, we went up to our suite.
Tim stripped out of his suit quickly, and knelt down next to me. He held my collar gently and removed the leash. He took off my protective boots and discarded them into the garbage, they were trashed beyond use. I felt my voice box loosen up again as Tim spoke to me. "Ok, you can talk now. Do you want me to bring you back up to two feet?"
"No." I said. I was still really depressed about the whole day.
"Ok, that's ok." Tim said. "Let me clean up, then I'll clean you up, and we'll be ok." I nodded slowly, and went to go take a shower.
I felt a gentle nuzzle on my side, and turned to look at my favorite black lab. "How are you holding out?"
I got a good look at Lucky, his nose was scraped up a little, ears nicked, like me. It looked like he had the same kind of day I did. "I want to cry." I said.
Lucky rubbed his muzzle under mine. "Then let's cry a little, together." He laid down next to me, and I cradled myself into him, curled up in his paws. And we cried. Together.
True to his word, Tim did clean me up a bit, which helped me feel a little better. We all ate a little that night, and slept together. I didn't dream that night. I don't know why.
The next day it rained. I guess President Bush was there, but I never saw him. He visited the fire fighters, who have been working their asses off to try to save anyone they can. They've lost a lot of people, and you can tell it's taking a toll. A lot of the week worked out the same, day after day. It was getting to me, so I decided to try to improve some people's moods by just being myself. Dumb stuff, like offering a nuzzle to a firefighter or rescue worker who looks like they need one.
In one case, the guy knelt down and gave me a full neck hug and a head scritch. Big strong guy too, darn near knocked me over with it. I could tell he appreciated it. This "fire dog" in the middle of this "Ground Zero" working along side the heroes of NYC, he liked it.
The next few days were more hell. The rain made the area worse. Wet concrete in my fur isn't pleasant, but it's part of the job. The smell of decay got stronger, and I've been finding that the effort has gone from finding the living to retrieval of the remains. The last few days have been like that, we go in, we search what we can. The confirmed death toll rises, and we move on while they use the heavy machinery to lift the steel and concrete.
I've made some friends among the NYFD too. All the working dogs are working side by side with them all the time it seems. I've come to know a few of them by scent. Joe, Chris, Mike, Steve, just a bunch of New York's finest. I guess they have a dal back at the firehouse named "Millie", and they got a kick out of seeing one out with them. When we take breaks Tim talks to the guys about where we're from, what they've been up to, all that. The department guys we talked to have lost people, not as many as others, but at this point they're looking for their own to get some kind of closure.
We held a pack meeting on the 18th. We decided, as a group, that we had to pull out and go home. In the week from the 11th, we did all we could do. We had to go home, eventually. The five of us who were in dog form hadn't left fours in the entire time, it was taking a toll on us all.
All of us leaned on each other for support, I slept with Ricochet one night. No sex, just to be with him. After our meeting the 18th, all of us dogs slept together, in a pile on the floor, just to be together, lean on each other.
I guess Tim mentioned something about it to the firemen we've been hanging out with. Yesterday during one of our breaks, we had a sort of exchange. They gave us some "FDNY" caps, we gave them some of our K-9 Rescue caps. I think it was Chris who put the cap on me, much to the amusement of Tim. I licked Chris's face, he got a good laugh. It felt more like they needed a good laugh, actually. I can't help myself, I have to fall into my nature of being somewhat a clown, even in the worst of the destruction. Wendy promised that we would all keep in touch, so that at least is good.
You know, through all of this, and through the whole week of what's happened here, I think I've seen the best and the worst. They're already saying it's this one guy behind the attacks, but all of us on the ground, we're all together. Everyone on the ground is a brother or sister of mine, pack or no. It's not pleasant, but we're all in it together. I feel honored to have been side by side with all these people.
We're going home tomorrow. But tonight we have one more thing left to do. Many members of the New York pack and in the area are holding a sort of get together. I'm in my hybrid form for a little while to type this up, but after I'm done I'm going back to all fours. We've decided to hold a howl. We'll all be at least in hybrid form, if not full. We're getting together to mourn, to remember, and to never forget.
I'm a little scared that we're going to war now, against Laden. I haven't dreamed the entire time I've been here, and that scares me more. The howl will be a good thing, I think. I'm looking forward to releasing a little of this anger I'm holding here. And to just talk, listen, be with the pack for a while. It's always good to be with your family, especially after something like this.
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