What do you think about emotional-support animals?


The April 22, 2013 issue of TIME Magazine had a thought-provoking article about emotional-support animals (ESA), “Comfort Creatures: Support Animals Help Patients, but That Lizard May Be Against the Law.”

The National Service Animal Registry (NSAR) certifies service and emotional-support animals and has registered 7,000 of them since 1995. The NSAR certifies dogs, cats, pigs, birds, mice, rats, hedge hogs, iguanas, rabbits, and goats. These animals can then wear vests or patches and have ID cards to prove they are necessary to the people they serve.


Mental health professionals can prescribe an animal’s companionship for patients to help them cope with emotional and psychological symptoms. But health departments can counteract the diagnosis with laws that restrict farm animals. Neighbors can and do report pet owners who they believe are keeping pets or traveling with them illegally.

According to the article there is a confusing gray area about what constitutes a service animal and who needs them. With physical disability, everyone can see why the person needs the animal. With emotional issues, the reasons for having a service animal may not be visible. “Complicating the issue further was the growing diversity of critters aiding people with physical disabilities: boa constrictors that warn their owners of oncoming seizures; capuchin monkeys that help quadriplegics eat and drink; parrots that verbally calm owners who suffer from bipolar disorder.”

Allen and Leaf

Allen and Leaf

The article doesn’t mention a further complication – people who make up their own vests and badges in order to self-certify a pet. Sometimes, this is due to the fact that someone with a disability is on a long waiting list to receive a professionally trained service animal or can’t afford to pay for one. Someone wrote to us that she couldn’t bear to be without her dog and had “faked” a vest that allowed the dog to go everywhere with her.

What do you think about emotional-support animals? Have you had an animal officially or informally who offered you so much emotional support that you had to have him or her with you everywhere?




Excerpted from A DOG NAMED LEAF by Allen Anderson with Linda Anderson, published by Lyons Press, 2012.  All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Summary of the Story:

Allen and Linda Anderson adopted a traumatized one-year-old cocker spaniel who had been abandoned. Soon, the troubled dog they named “Leaf” turned their home into a war zone. Although Leaf and Allen were forging a friendship with visits to dog parks and bonding time, Leaf’s emotional issues overwhelmed the couple.

Shortly after Leaf’s arrival, Allen, who had spent eight years as a big city police officer and survived so many close calls that Linda called him “Miracle Man,” received a diagnosis from his doctor that made him think his luck had finally run out. Allen had an unruptured brain aneurysm that could be fatal, and the surgery to repair it might leave him debilitated.

A few weeks after Allen’s brain surgery while he was still trying to recover, the following section of the story occurred.

Alpha Leaf

During my healing process Leaf became my channel for viewing and living in the strange post-surgery world where my body could no longer be trusted to do what was necessary. After I was cleared to drive again, I took Leaf to the dog park so both of us could relax. With my frontal lobe still not in total functioning mode, other drivers agitated me. I now understood how a person could be overtaken by road rage.

To my embarrassment, I found myself yelling at drivers who lingered at stoplights. It irritated me that they crossed lanes too close in front of my car, chattered on their cell phones, or indulged in other poor driving habits. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have been fazed much and just made sure I got out of their way.

In our car CD player, we keep a recording of around five thousand people chanting the love-filled mantra “HU.” For me, it is an incredibly soothing sound. The voices of all these chanters fluctuate and harmonize into a magnificent, unrehearsed symphony of high vibrational sound. When I’m driving I often push the button on the car stereo system and listen to the uplifting song waft through the speakers. With Leaf in the car, I doubly enjoy the chant, sensing that it also soothes and comforts him.



On this day Leaf watched me from the front seat as my anger erupted at other drivers. I was like someone with Tourette’s syndrome, unable to censor my negative mind talk. After watching me scream at a bus that stopped frequently in front of my car, Leaf reached his paw over to the CD player. Out of six buttons on the stereo, he firmly pressed the one that allowed the HU CD to play.

The timing, position of his paw, his selection of buttons, and the CD that happened to be in the stereo could have all been coincidental. I didn’t care. I needed it. Consciously or not, I knew Leaf was being God’s messenger for me. His act of compassion had its desired effect. I calmed down and let the chant heal my troubled, aching heart and mind. Gratitude welled up in me. My dog had figured out how to supply exactly what I needed to dissolve a passion of the mind I couldn’t control.

I looked over at him. As if nothing had happened, as if he did this sort of thing every day, his attention returned to the traffic. His curious eyes darted back and forth as he watched cars whiz by. Who was this dog? If I couldn’t register an oncoming vehicle, would he lean over and steer the car out of the way for me too?

Later that day I sat on the living room couch with Leaf in his usual spot. His body draped across my torso, and his head rested on my crossed leg. Although I’d grown over the months to appreciate him at deeper levels, at this moment I experienced an epiphany about our relationship.

I looked at my little adopted dog and realized that we were both emotionally damaged goods. My lack of trust in people, fear of being dependent like my stroke-ridden father, discomfort when people expressed their emotions, and an overwhelming need for privacy all sprung from a childhood in which I never had enough strength to feel safe. Eight years of police work had confronted me with some of the worst humanity had to offer. With its random violence, it had reinforced my low opinion of anyone’s, including my own, trustworthiness.

Leaf ‘s fear, mistrust, and mercurial emotions arose from losing everything he’d ever known and being left without any safety net but his own street smarts. Although he’d been the abandoned shelter dog we rescued, without a doubt he had more than returned the favor. I knew now that life had turned our relationship to its flip side. Leaf was rescuing and trying to heal me. This little black cocker spaniel, abandoned and thrown out like someone’s trash, named Harley at the shelter after a motorcycle he detested, had become nothing less than a spiritual giant in my life.

Visit http://www.adognamedleaf.com for details about A DOG NAMED LEAF.

Do your pets talk in their sleep?


Allen was sitting in our dog Leaf’s favorite chair in our home office. He was catching up on some reading while Leaf sprawled out on the floor, sleeping.

Allen heard some noise from Leaf’s location and looked down at him. Suddenly, our little cocker spaniel was talking in his sleep. Leaf made the same sounds as when he and Linda are talking about his day or something that might be bothering him.  There was a mix of “ra ra” and grumbles coming from the back of his throat; short moans and then an “arf,” as if he were giving his statements an exclamation point.

This dream conversation was longer than Leaf’s regular talks with Linda when he is awake.  Allen sensed there was a back-and-forth with someone in Leaf’s dream talking back to him. Leaf would listen and then respond with a series of different noises.

After a few minutes Leaf stopped talking, took a big deep inward breath, and started snoring with gusto.

Do your pets talk in their sleep? What do you think they’re saying? Who do you think they are talking to?

Visit <http://www.angelanimals.net/nlimage124.html&gt; to view Leaf on his favorite dreaming spot.



When have you had to be patient while waiting for others to release something?


Leaf Sharing His Tree with Others

We took our cocker spaniel Leaf to the dog park over this autumn weekend.  During our other visits to what we call “Dog Park Heaven” near the Mississippi River, we have always found our favorite spot to sit on the beach.  Our spot is also next to a low-hanging, thick tree branch where Leaf likes to climb. He can lie down on his tree branch with his bouncy ball in his mouth.

This time though, Leaf didn’t stay on his tree branch alone.  Several small children looked at our little rescued dog and said, “There is a dog in the tree.”  Then they immediately climbed Leaf’s tree.  Leaf looked befuddled.  Joining the children, their little black retriever climbed up after them.

Overwhelmed by this abundance of visitors, Leaf jumped off his branch on to the sand. Holding his ball tightly in his mouth, he walked over to us and glanced toward his tree. Then he looked at us again.

Linda threw the ball toward the edge of the river. Leaf gave chase to retrieve his ball but then was not sure what to do. He would normally have climbed back up into “his” tree with the ball.  Finally, he decided that he could share his tree with the kids and their dog.  He climbed next to one of the children and dropped down on to the branch.  He was sweet and nice but still wanting his spot on the branch.

Yet he shared something that was very important to him.  Leaf knew from experience with us humans that our attention spans are not the greatest. The kids would soon be off to other dog park adventures.  He was right.  Within a few minutes the children were exploring other trees and trails.

When have you had to be patient while waiting for others to release something?


A Dog Named Leaf in a Tree

A Dog Named Leaf in a Tree


“Oh, my God! There’s a dog in the tree!” one of three teenage girls yelled with disbelief, as the trio walked past us. When they saw the dog, the other two teens called almost in unison, “Oh, my God!” as they all gawked upward.

Our cocker spaniel Leaf and we were at our regular Saturday morning spot, sitting on the soft white sand, viewing the great Mississippi river as it slowly flowed past. This was our quiet time to reflect on our week and what lay ahead.

Our Saturday spot is in the middle of 12 acres of a heavily wooded forest with many walking trails–all existing for dogs. It has an official name, but we call it DOG PARK HEAVEN, the BEST dog park ever.

Near where we always sit on the beach, a large fallen oak tree with ample branches thrusts toward the river. The incline is low enough that Leaf feels comfortable climbing upward, high onto its limb. Upon reaching his destination, he lies down on the thick branch. Then he places his most precious procession, an orange bouncy ball, between his two front paws. With the ball in its proper place, he relaxes and observes all the activities beneath him. This is HIS spot where no dog or human can reach him.

As the people and their canines strolled down the beach one Saturday, some, like the teenagers, noticed Leaf. Most of the time people made their statement about the dog in the tree in a monotone voice as if trying to be cool about such a strange sight. It was as if they were saying, “The tree has leaves.”

Some asked, “Is that your dog?” Linda replied, “Yes, he likes heights. He must have been a cat in a previous life.”

A Dog Named Leaf in a Tree

A Dog Named Leaf in a Tree

With those additional details each person continued to stare at Leaf as he or she slowly approached the tree. With a slight moment of hesitation, they continued walking under the branch while Leaf looked down at them, probably thinking, “They won’t get my ball.”

A few times, passing dogs would also look skyward and see Leaf. Some glared at him when they realized he was not a squirrel. The big dogs looked horrified that a smaller dog would dare be higher than they. “It’s just not natural,” they seemed to be thinking. Other dogs noticed that Leaf had something between his paws. Could it be a ball?

With perfect timing, suddenly and with purpose, Leaf repeatedly showed the dogs that he, in fact, had his own ball. “See! Look at me! Mine!” While he actively chomped on his ball, no canine considered taking the challenge of climbing high to swipe it.

Maybe people were double-checking to make sure what they saw was real and could now be part of their expanded worldview of what dogs do. Maybe the dogs looked back at Leaf to ponder a day when they might get the ball Leaf guarded. After all, it was as if he was mocking them by proudly displaying his prize.

As it turns out, Leaf had a plan of action outside of teasing the dogs below him with a ball they could never capture. He wanted to show off how macho he was or maybe display his intelligence. Using advanced strategic planning, he carefully evaluated potential foes. With amazing timing he threw his ball downward to the beach as his chosen mark approached.

Leaf chose dogs who were totally unaware of his presence above them. With delight and ecstasy, the dogs couldn’t believe their good luck. A ball had dropped from the sky, a gift from the heavens, a toy to enjoy. This was truly DOG PARK HEAVEN!

At the chosen one’s moment of greatest gratitude and vulnerability, Leaf swooped down from his high perch, also appearing to have fallen from the sky. Eye-to-eye with the chosen canine, he quickly chomped on the orange ball and ran with it back up the tree. There, he safely watched the dog’s disappointment and bewilderment that the unexpected gift had been taken away only seconds after being offered.

As we relaxed at our spot on the beach, watching The Leaf Show, dogs slowly walked over to us to say hello. We gentle caressed their heads or ears and told each of our visitors how beautiful he or she was.

This game Leaf played with unsuspecting dogs continued for weeks until one Saturday when we all experienced a profound change. As usual, Leaf displayed his total joy in being back at Dog Park Heaven. We slowly walked down the long winding trail to the Mississippi river and found our regular spot. While we sat in the soft cool sand, Leaf climbed his tree, holding his orange ball in his mouth and rooting himself into his high spot. All was right with the world.

Soon after we relaxed, one dog, then two, then four rushed over to scale Leaf’s exclusive tree branch. Word had gotten out. Was this a dog version of text messaging or inner social media, ending up with a flash mob? Leaf’s personal domain now had uninvited visitors. Big dogs, small dogs, wet and dirty dogs of all sizes formed packs and were invading HIS tree. Tensely he gripped the ball in his mouth, guarding it against those who dared occupy his branch of safety and personal refuge.

A Dog Named Leaf in a Tree

A Dog Named Leaf in a Tree

Consciousness had expanded. The traditional dog park with noses sniffing close to ground had vanished. Traditional canine experience was no longer limited. Humans were delighted and amazed that their dogs could now go high. With nervous laughter they said things such as, “Look at her! I didn’t know she could do that!” Placing limitations on their companions was no longer as easy as previously.

Leaf too had to become accustomed to a new dog park reality. Observing the world from above can be fun but his high spot was no longer unreachable. As a result, he began coming down to earth more often to mix it up, play with other dogs, and have us throw his ball to chase and retrieve.

What did the three of us learn?

Sometimes life breaks through seemingly unbreakable boundaries we have place upon ourselves — fixed notions of what individuals are capable of doing and being. Yet neither dog-made nor man-created limitations are absolute.

What have the animals in your life taught you about possibilities?



Visit <http://www.angelanimals.net/nlimage118.html&gt; to view Leaf in a tree.


We don’t recall seeing articles about animal family members being considerate. There have been some studies showing animal altruism though.

In our home, our cat Cuddles lives up to her name and cuddles up next to Linda at night on our bed. She’s very considerate not to wake up Linda until morning, when she decides it’s time for her breakfast.

Our cockatiel Sunshine is considerate when we use the spray bottle, filled with warm water, to give him his morning bath. He raises his wings so we can spray under them and puts his head down for a good spray of his head feathers.

The reason this theme is on our minds today, though, is that our dog Leaf, one of our life’s greatest spiritual teachers, often shows us consideration. He’s definitely not a – my way or the highway – kind of guy.

Although we mainly do our writing at home, if we need to meet with a client, Linda carefully puts on her makeup to prepare. Sensing that we’re about to leave the house, Leaf is eager to kiss Linda’s face with his long, pink tongue. So Linda says, “Leaf, don’t kiss off all my makeup.” And she turns away so he can’t reach her cheeks.

The other day, it appeared that Leaf got the message. As Linda was ready to leave the house, she bent down to kiss him on his head. In turn, he very carefully kissed her only on the tip of her nose. With great discipline, he put his tongue back in his mouth and refrained from plastering her face with any more kisses.


Have your pets been considerate to you or others? Send us your stories to .

Allen and Linda Anderson
Angel Animals Network — Spiritual Perspectives for People Who Believe Pets Are Family Member

To subscribe to the Angel Animals Story of the Week, send a blank message to


A Dog Named Leaf

A Dog Named Leaf



“If you’ve ever doubted animals have souls, this book will open your heart and mind to truly believing we are all connected. You will never doubt again. Your life will be enriched far beyond what you could have ever imagined and you will have author Allen Anderson to thank for it.” A DOG NAMED LEAF is a great gift idea for the dog loving friends and family in your life!
–Barbara Techel, Joyful Paws

“A DOG NAMED LEAF is a beautiful story told with honesty and depth. You’ll be changed by Allen and Leaf’s journey. This book will fill you with hope.”
–Peggy Frezon, Peggy’s Pet Place

“Part ‘Marley and Me’ and part Jon Katz… the story is endearing, and the many photographs of Leaf running, swimming, and chasing a tennis ball in south Minneapolis are adorable.”
–Laurie Hertzel, “The Browser” MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE

“Allen’s writing is able to draw the reader into some peak moments of challenge and choice in the life of both Leaf and himself, as a family. It is a rare glimpse into the deep workings of spirit through our animal human love bonds. It is one of the best examples of how we need one another to heal and that the commitment to love through all things brings forth the magic of miracles.”

“…The authorial voice is distinctly Allen’s. In 2006, Allen learns that he has an unruptured brain aneurysm, seven months after the family adopts a black cocker spaniel, Leaf, from a shelter. Throughout, he clearly conveys the affection that he and his dog have for each other and how that affection proved crucial to his recovery from brain surgery…”
–PUBLISHER’S WEEKLY, September 24, 2012

“Take a break from life’s drama and venture into a world of Leaf, a rescued dog who have changed a couple’s life. Find out how rewarding adopting a dog can be, regardless of how impossible he may seem to take care of at first. Get the book [A Dog Named Leaf]and be inspired.”
–WHiMZ News, November 8, 2012





Last weekend, October 6, we had the honor and fun of attending American Humane Association’s Second Annual Hero Dog Awards at the Beverly Hilton in California. The weekend’s events started on Friday evening with a VIP reception where we got to meet American Humane’s president and CEO Dr. Robin Ganzert. She and board member Steve Dale wrote the foreword for our book, ANIMALS AND THE KIDS WHO LOVE THEM, but we’d never met them in person until that night.

Saturday, Dr. Ganzert had invited us to walk the red carpet and be their guest at the award show. Betty White, a former board member of American Humane, received a special award to honor her years of devotion to helping animals. Eight dogs, voted on by the millions of people from around the world, were finalists in various categories such as therapy dog, military dog, K-9 dog, and service dog. That night, the winner was announced – Gabe, a combat-seasoned US Army NCO whose ability to sniff out bombs in Iraq saved hundreds of lives.

We were also thrilled to meet Judy Fridono and Ricochet whose story is in our book DOGS AND THE WOMEN WHO LOVE THEM. Judy and Ricochet were Hero Dog finalists last year. Ricochet has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for charities by surfing in the ocean. More about her inspiring contributions at http://www.surfdogricochet.com/

Visit http://www.angelanimals.net/recentevents.html to see photos of us at the event.

Do you have a hero dog or cat or horse or rabbit or any other kind of animal who has helped you or others?

Please share your comments and answers to the questions on Angel Animals Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/angelanimalsnetwork or http://www.facebook.com/adognamedleaf and “Like” Angel Animals and A Dog Named Leaf. We will also have the questions posted on the Angel Animals Facebook page.

Allen and Linda Anderson
Angel Animals Network

Writing about Leaf

Writing about Leaf

We are compiling letters, emails, and comments about Leaf for a special writing project. Since we adopted Leaf from the animal shelter on October 7, 2006, we have consistently written about him in the Angel Animals Story of the Week, on Facebook, and in our blogs.

Many of you have been part of his journey from the beginning. He entered as an abandoned, frightened dog, attempting to live in a home with two cats, a bird, and two humans who grieved over the death of their beloved yellow Lab, Taylor, only months earlier.

We’d love to hear from all of you who have followed Leaf through such things as dog park, doggie daycare, panic attacks, fear of strangers, animal communicators, learning to live with cats, being the first cocker spaniel to run for President, and growing into trust and love.

We’d also appreciate hearing from those of you who are just now tuning in. If you want to catch up, you can go to http://www.angelanimals.net and click on archived newsletters or go to Leaf’s Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/leafdogbookauthor and post your thoughts there. The name of the page is “Leaf, Spiritual Hero Dog.”

What are your impressions of Leaf? What are your thoughts about him and his journey? Please send letters to angelanimals@aol.com or even better, post your comments on Leaf’s Facebook page for everyone to read.

We would greatly appreciate hearing from you in regard to Leaf and how he might have helped you remember your own journeys with animals.


Allen and Linda Anderson

Angel Animals Network – Where Pets Are Family


To subscribe to the Angel Animals Story of the Week, send a blank message to AngelAnimals-on@mail-list.com




Excerpted from “Whispering Secrets to Anna at Ground Zero” by Sarah R. Atlas from ANGEL DOGS WITH A MISSION by Allen and Linda Anderson (New World Library, 2008). Reprinted with permission.

No billboards advertise, “Here’s how to get involved in search-and-rescue work.” Yet I had wanted for a long time to give this type of service. I remember watching a television program in which search-and-rescue dogs responded to an earthquake in a far-off land. The handlers and dogs worked under the worst conditions to assist those in life-and-death situations. I wondered whether I ever would be in the right circumstances to find the best dog to fulfill my dream.

I had been involved with my older dog in schutzhund, a sport that originated in Germany for demonstrating a dog’s intelligence and courage. It involves competing in a dog triathlon that includes obedience training, tracking, and protection work. So I had some idea of the time and energy commitment required to train a dog to a high level of ability.

I decided to add a puppy to my household of two dogs. In February 1998 I went to look at a litter of German shepherd puppies from imported bloodlines. As I pondered which to choose, a little bicolored pup marched over, grabbed my pants leg, and tugged on it. I said, “I guess I’ve been picked.” Her name was Anna. With that first connection, we would begin the journey of a lifetime.

I’d had quite a few dogs over the years, but right away I could tell that Anna was different from all the rest. She seemed to know what I was thinking before I asked her to do things. Also, she was very protective. Anna and I were in tune and so connected with each other that, even when separated physically, I felt her presence with me. This was a unique spiritual experience for me to have with a dog.

While at my job one day, I happened to have a conversation with a married couple, Sharon and Rich. They were both emergency medical technicians (EMTs) and were also involved in search-and-rescue work with their dogs. I told them about my puppy, Anna, and that she would be perfect in this type of job. They rolled their eyes, because everyone thinks he or she has a perfect dog. “Maybe your dog can find you,” Sharon said, “but search-and-rescue dogs must look for strangers.”

Rich and Sharon invited me to come to their house so they could evaluate my dog to see if she would be suitable for search-and-rescue training. An important trait for the dog to have is a hunting drive. They repeatedly threw balls into the woods to see if Anna would keep focused on hunting for and finding them. They also had me take Anna away after they threw a ball and return with her five minutes later to see if she continued to look for the ball. To my delight Anna tested extremely well.

Sharon and Rich spent hundreds of hours teaching Anna and me the skills we would need to become a search-and-rescue dog team. One day Rich told me that New Jersey Task Force One, the state’s urban search-and-rescue team, was holding a screening for dogs and handlers to become new members. There are only twelve positions on a search-and-rescue team, so only the most talented dogs are selected to join.

Anna was six weeks pregnant when I took her through the screening process. Not only did we make it onto the team’s roster but we also passed with high marks. Soon afterward, Anna had her litter. A year later, we were called to serve at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

Anna at the World Trade Center

Within hours after the airplanes had crashed into the Twin Towers, Anna and I were part of the first search-and-rescue teams arriving at the World Trade Center. As we entered the search area, all that was left of the magnificent Twin Towers were mounds of twisted steel, cables, and white ash, which covered everything. At one point we were halted in our progress with the search as World Trade Center building 7 collapsed onto the pile of debris.

It was frightening with so much commotion. Normally dogs become very intense and excited as they pull ahead to begin their searches. But Anna remained quiet, even stoic, as she looked at the horrible scene in front of us. I confided to Anna that I was scared. I stressed to her that what we were about to do here was important work. She leaned against me as if she understood the gravity of the situation.

This was Anna’s first mission. Although we had been through a lot of training, no amount could have prepared us for the sight that lay before us. Everybody looked like little ants against rubble piles of steel and pulverized concrete. 

It was so tough. A lot of firemen and cops bent down and cried, whispering into Anna’s ears that day. Anna licked the faces of people as she listened to their sorrows and kept their secrets.

Working at Ground Zero was bizarre and eerie. Something very strange happened down there that I have not told many people. Although there were no signs of life, I could hear high-pitched cries and moaning. I saw what looked like white clouds going to heaven. I thought that the moans I heard must have been final cries of spirits leaving their bodies though they did not want to go. Yet they were finally being released. Later on, a fireman who had also worked at Ground Zero said he experienced exactly the same things.

At night we stayed in the Javits Center parking garage, sleeping on blankets on the floor. That first night, Anna and I were exhausted, and I reached over to hug her. She leaned on me and whimpered as we comforted each other.

On the last shift we worked at Ground Zero, a fire chief came up to me and said, “I know remains are up there, but we don’t know where to begin searching.” So I sent Anna to search in places where none of us could climb. I had to use voice and hand signals to direct her.

She showed interest in two spots. She wasn’t certified as a cadaver dog, but as closely as we had worked with our search-and-rescue dogs, we understood their body language. Anna stared back at me with intensity until I acknowledged that she must have picked up the scent of remains. Then she walked back down from the area, and I pointed out the locations to the fire chief.

By this time Anna’s tongue was turning purple, her breathing was labored, and her eyes looked listless. She was showing signs of heat stroke. I called my task force leader and said that my dog needed medical attention and IV fluids. As I walked back to the vehicle for Anna, a man held up a picture and thrust it toward me. He said, “Please, have you seen my son? Don’t leave my son. He’s down there somewhere.”

I tried to explain to the distraught man that my dog was exhausted, and other dogs were coming. The heat was unbearable from fires still burning. The man pulled something out of a brown paper bag and showed it to me. “This is my son’s shirt,” he said. I got emotional and had to turn away. Our task force leader explained to the man that rested search dogs were en route to the site.

After I made it to the search and rescue vehicle, I heard a call on the radio. A voice confirmed that the searchers had located the remains of two victims in Anna’s search area.

After September 11

Following our service on September 11, we packed our belongings and said good-bye to fellow rescuers, well-wishers, and janitorial staff who had become like family. We thanked the police officers who guarded us and the Salvation Army volunteers who fed and consoled us.

Then we boarded busses with our tired dogs, their coats thick with soot and an awful smell that would be almost impossible to remove. As our bus pulled out of the Javits Center garage and headed down the West Side Highway, we passed people who began to cheer and shout, “Thank you. Thank you. You are our heroes.”

Upon returning to our home base at the Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Station, we were greeted by scores of television reporters who pushed microphones toward our faces. Families rushed to hug us. The U.S. Navy band played, and the New Jersey State Police performed “Amazing Grace” on their bagpipes.


In 2007, for the first time, my foundation was able to give two $500 grants to assist search-and-rescue dog handlers whose dogs were unable to work or had died due to age, illness, or injury. Our goal is to give ten $1,000 grants per year to help handlers replace K-9s.

Not a day goes by without my thinking of Ann. I began Search and Rescue Dog Foundation in her honor, to help my fellow volunteer search-and-rescue workers and to encourage young people to perform this type of service. I think Anna would have liked that.


Sarah R. Atlas from Barrington, New Jersey, is a member of the New Jersey Task Force One Urban Search and Rescue Team. She shares her life and home with search-and-rescue partner Tango; her other canine partner, Kaylee, a human-remains recovery dog; and Szara, who is a pet-therapy dog. Sarah is founder of the nonprofit 501c(3) charity, The Search & Rescue Dog Foundation, Inc. To learn more, visit http://www.sardogfoundation.org.


Has a dog inspired you to selflessly serve the greater good?