A new study shows that ten years after the 9/11 attacks, K-9 rescuers at World Trade Center site and elsewhere have shown only "minimal" health setbacks compared to their human counterparts.
The study, conducted by the the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, monitored the long-term health effects of working at Ground Zero and the Pentagon found that canines did not show the same level of respiratory problems found in human rescuers.
“The most striking thing is that many of the humans that responded have developed reactive airway diseases, such as asthma, sinusitis or other chronic infections in their nasal sinuses. The dogs on the other hand have fared extremely well,” explained Dr. Cynthia Otto, the study's lead researcher and an associate professor at PennVet. “They’re not developing any problems with their lungs or sinuses. That is a real surprise.”
The study was supported by a $500,000 grant from the American Kennel Club's Canine Health Foundation (CHF).
Otto said the vast majority of canines suffered only minor cuts and scrapes despite not wearing protective gear. Kaiser, now a 12-year-old German shepherd, was one of only four dogs in the study that required stitches while working at Ground Zero.
“On our second day there, Kaiser sliced a pad on the pile,” said Tony Zintsmaster, Kaiser’s trainer and a charter member of Indiana Task Force One. “Once he was stitched up and felt better, Kaiser went back to work. He was quite amazing. He was able to adapt to the situation and showed great agility. He seemed happiest when he was on the pile working.”
Zintsmaster, along with other handlers who participated in the study, submitted annual X-rays, blood samples and surveys on their dog’s health and behavior to researchers.
The study also found that the average lifespan of deployed dogs was 12.5 years, while non-deployed search-and-rescue dogs lived an average 11.8 years. Today, at least 13 deployed search-and-rescue dogs, that were part of the study are still alive.
“These dogs are a national resource and it’s remarkable to know how well they were able to endure such harsh conditions,” said Terry Warren, CHF chief executive officer and general counsel.
Because canine and human genomes are similar and most canine diseases also occur in humans, future research could center on learning why the search-and-rescue dogs were able to endure the challenging conditions with minimal respiratory complications. Identifying respiratory genetic markers in canines could lead to the development of treatments of respiratory ailments in humans.
“The findings may open our eyes to the difference between dogs and people that makes them so resilient,” Otto said. “If we could tap into that, we might actually help move human health forward.”