Named for a mythical hunter and a constellation, search and rescue dog Orion has become a star in his old age.
The golden retriever, who lives in Vacaville with owner and handler Robert Macaulay, was one of more than 100 search and rescue dogs sent by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to New York City to help locate victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center. Now 13 years old, Orion and the 14 other 9/11 search and rescue dogs surviving a decade later are featured in a book, “Retrieved,” by photographer Charlotte Dumas, scheduled for publication this month.
He and Orion participated in the 9/11 search as volunteers with the Oakland Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, one of eight such groups in California. It was Orion’s first collapsed-building assignment. Because the dog had just passed the first of two certification tests, Macaulay said, they weren’t sent until two weeks after the attack.
“By that time,” he said, “we knew we were looking only for remains.”
Orion found three sets of remains.
His most successful search was of an outdoor patio area, 10 stories up.
“There was so much scent coming up the side of the building, I feared he might go over the edge,” Macaulay said.
Dumas, 34, said in a telephone interview that much of her previous work focused on fine art portraits of working animals, including police dogs and horses. She was researching a project on military dogs returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan when she learned about the dogs of 9/11. She took the dogs sent by FEMA as her domain and photographed the 15 that were still living from March through May of this year. Three of those dogs have since died, she said.
On one hand, she said, these dogs are just like the average dog, but as working animals, they exhibit a higher degree of concentration.
“They have a higher sense of responsibility,” Dumas said. “They’re not as carefree as most animals. They have a very serious side.”
Macaulay, a transportation and land-use planner with the Solano Transportation Authority, grew up in Reno and attributes his interest in search and rescue work to his experience as a Boy Scout.
“It’s about being prepared and citizenship, being a good member of society,” he said. “It’s how I can give back.”
Macaulay has trained dogs for both wilderness and structural search and rescue. He initially volunteered with the Sacramento Urban Search and Rescue Task Force. He and Orion’s predecessor, Quasar, participated in rescue efforts following the April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.
Macaulay and Orion also went to New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, although because of the deep floodwaters, he said, search opportunities were limited.
Macaulay and Orion’s nephew, 4-year-old Helios, currently volunteer with the Menlo Park Urban Search and Rescue Task Force.
Retired, Orion no longer participates in official searches.
“But part of the bargain is that even when he is retired, I try not to let him know that,” Macaulay said. “He still goes out on training.”
For being the age equivalent of a human about 95 years old, “he’s still darn spry and active,” Macaulay said.
Dumas said it has been gratifying to see the public’s interest in these dogs, as word has circulated about the book.
Like Orion, most of the dogs went on to have long careers after 9/11, Dumas said.
“Now, after 10 years,” she said, “they get their moment to shine.”