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25 November 2001 Issue
The K-9 Hero of Sept. 11: Dog Nearly Killed by WTC Dust

From the "Critters" page of the New York City Daily News
Saturday, November 17, 2001
By Kristoffer A. Garin
Daily News writer

In the human tragedy of Sept. 11, some heroes weren't human at all.

Rescue dogs from around the country took great risks to find living souls beneath the pile. One of the bravest is Servous, a 9-year-old Belgian Malinois.

Servous' efforts at the World Trade Center nearly killed him twice, and his injuries have forced him off the job at Illinois' East Carondelet Police Department, where he worked with K-9 Officer Chris Christensen.

After watching the twin towers collapse on TV, Christensen and Servous made the 990-mile drive as quickly as they could, arriving exhausted on the morning of Sept. 13 in their squad car.

"I stood there looking at all the damage and destruction," Christensen said. "As I'm looking at all the smoke and dust, a guy ran up and said, 'There's victims off of [Liberty Plaza] -- we need a K-9.'"

The man led Christensen and Servous to a menacing hole in the rubble. They had begun to crawl in when disaster struck.

"Something caught my pack, spun me right around, and the next thing I know my dog slid by me into the hole, into dust up to his eyes," said Christensen.

Pulling him out, Christensen scooped a large handful of dust out of Servous' mouth. The dog's tongue was completely purple -- a deadly sign.

"We poured water over his face and liquid concrete came out of his nose," said Christensen. "he was dying."

Alert rescue workers found an oxygen tank, and cops rushed Servous up the FDR [Highway] to the Animal Medical Center on E. 62nd St.

Servous pulled through, thanks to hospital doctors who flushed the debris out of his lungs with a tube.

Knowing his partner was too badly injured to work, Christensen decided to leave Servous in the squad car and go help out with the bucket brigade.

But Servous had other plans.

"This is an incredibly obedient dog," Christensen said. "When I opened the car door, he jumped out and wouldn't get back in. He looked at me, like 'No, I'm going with you.' To my dying day, I'll never forget that."

Hearing another call for K-9 help, Christensen and Servous spent hours searching the rubble. Then Servous took a second near-fatal spill -- this time off an elevated steel girder.

"It put him right back into that respiratory trouble," said Christensen. "I started screaming for oxygen again, a doctor showed up on the scene, and we rushed back up to the Animal Medical Center. I said, that's it, this dog has given about 1,000%. I'm not going to kill this dog."

When a weakened but stabilized Servous -- legs bandaged and sporting an IV needle -- saw his handler come into the ICU, he thumped his tail on the floor, and the room broke into tears. By then it was Saturday, and Christensen knew it was time to go home.

It wasn't until the drive back, riding home with his wounded partner, that Christensen wept.

It is unlikely Servous will ever be an active police dog again -- the dog who chased down violent criminals in some of Illinois' worst areas is too traumatized now even for the hero's welcome he so richly deserves.

"If people start clapping, he starts shaking," Christensen said. "When I take him somewhere I have to take an oxygen bottle just in case. It's the only thing that brings him out of it."

But as long as there isn't too much noise, Servous is happy. He's resting. And far from being put out to pasture, he'll be taking on a different job.

Servous is going to be a coach. Christensen has already ordered a new puppy, and Servous will help train it.

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