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Canines bring dogged spirit to rescue effort

New York State Trooper Rick Scranton and canine partner Theo work to find victims at the World Trade Center site.
New York State Trooper Rick Scranton and canine partner Theo work to find victims at the World Trade Center site.  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Amid the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center, heroes come in all shapes and sizes, including the four-legged variety. About 350 canine rescue teams from throughout the country have converged at the site to work around the clock with their human handlers.

"We're here to recover victims from the tragedy," said New York State Trooper Rick Scranton, who works with his canine partner, Theo. "We generally leave where we're staying at 5 a.m. and get home between 8 and 9 at night."

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The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has established an on-site medical unit especially for the rescue dogs. Between their grueling shifts, the animals are fed, bathed and rehydrated.

"I saw one handler come in here with his dog -- the back legs were giving out on the dog," said Roy Gross of the SPCA. "We rehydrated; we gave him whatever care he needed. The dog pulled his handler back toward the pile (of rubble). I never saw anything like that. I see that the dogs and their handlers work as a team. They're like two trained soldiers."

In addition to the dogs that are soldiering through the rubble, looking for victims, one special canine unit was brought in to provide emotional support to the human rescue workers.

"These dogs have been trained to pick up on trauma and go toward it so they actually pursue people that they perceive to be in a state of trauma," said Josiah Whitaker, one of the handlers.

The bond between rescue dogs and their handlers is tight.

"We live with these dogs," Scranton said. "These dogs go home with us every night. They're members of the family. They're regular dogs at home except when they're working, and when they work, it's a different animal."

-- CNN's Kitty Pilgrim contributed to this report.


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