On the eve of the 10th anniversary of the worst day in American history during my lifetime, I'd like to remember the cats who were at Ground Zero during the 9/11 attacks when terrorists crashed into the Twin Towers. I'd never given much thought to the animals who were caught up in the destruction. Everyone has their own memories of that day. Mine are of fire and panic and death. Also bravery. A lot of people died saving others.
I received an email on Thursday from the ASPCA commemorating the event and the part the ASPCA played that day. This organization was one of several who took charge to help rescue and reunite animals with their owners. If you look at a map of New York City, the ASPCA is located about 8 miles from the World Trade Center. This made it possible for them to immediately spring into action. Volunteers and staff members, along with the ASPCA Humane Law Enforcement Agents, set up two mobile veterinary units in lower Manhattan. They worked around the clock to care for the injured animals and to reunite the animals with their owners.
Dr. Larry Hawk, President and CEO at the time, lost a sister on American Airlines Flight 11, where she worked as a flight attendant. Yet he jumped right in to help out the cats and dogs at these two mobile veterinary units.
In the weeks that followed 9/11 there were more than 5000 volunteer applications from people wanting to help the ASPCA in New York City. More than 100 organizations supported the effort both monetarily and by donating supplies and food.
The HSNY (Humane Society of New York) team was also immediately on the scene and their Veterinary Assistant, Kerry McGinnis, was featured in the Life 9/11 commemorative magazine issue and book.
Yesterday I read an article written by Christine Church. She brought up a point I'd never considered. Christine did an internet search about the cats of 9/11 and came up with NOTHING! Not one word about the cats (or dogs) who were caught up in this tragedy. I decided to conduct the same search and came up with only one reference to a cat who survived a week on his own in an apartment near Ground Zero when his owner, Gwen Cooper, couldn't return to help her cat.
If her name is familiar to you, its because Gwen went on to write the New York Times Best Seller Homer's Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale. Homer is a remarkable cat, losing both of his eyes to an infection when he was just three weeks old. Gwen is also quite special, as she donates a percentage of her book sales to animals in need.
Many cats had owners who were killed during the attacks and in the aftermath and would never come home. People living in apartments in the area who, like Gwen, weren't allowed back in for days after the attacks. Animals and people alike were caught up in a nightmare more horrible than I can even imagine. The feral cats, strays and homeless cats had to breathe in the smoke and other toxins. They had to face a world suddenly turned upside down. Many did not survive.