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Tag: world trade center

The last living 9/11 search and rescue dog?

TrakratGroundZero

A golden retriever named Bretagne is all over the Internet today — today being 9/11 — looking much grayer around the muzzle than she did in 2001 and being described as the only search and rescue dog at the World Trade Center who is still living.

Whether that’s accurate depends on how you define “living.”

Not to pick nits, but there’s another dog, a German shepherd named Trakr — said by some to have found the last human survivor of the World Trade Center attack — who lives on … in a way.

Trakr was cloned in 2009, after his owner, a police officer turned actor, won an essay contest seeking the world’s most “cloneworthy” dog.

Five little clones of Trakr were born, after Trakr’s death at age 16 in 2009, and arrived in the U.S. from the Korean laboratory in which the procedure took place.

It’s a long story, one you can read about in the book, “DOG, INC.,” which recounts how dog cloning became a commercial enterprise.

Here’s the short version: Trakr was the partner of  James Symington, a Halifax, Nova Scotia,  police officer. When Trakr was retired, Symington claimed him as his own. On Sept. 11, 2001, after seeing news reports, Symington, without authorization from his department, took Trakr to the World Trade Center.

There, as Symington recounts it, Trakr discovered Genelle Guzman buried in the rubble — the last survivor found.

Others dispute his account.

Symington later moved to California to pursue a career in acting, taking Trakr with him. When an American company called BioArts announced it was holding a “Golden Clone Giveaway,” Symington submitted an essay, and won.

BioArts footed the bill (about $150,000) and sent samples of Trakr’s DNA to South Korean veterinarian Hwang Woo-Suk, who was on the team at Seoul National University that produced the world’s first canine clone, Snuppy. He’d since been fired and opened his own laboratory, Sooam Biotech Research Foundation.

Trakr’s DNA was inserted into five “surrogate” egg cells, each of which was zapped with electricity and implanted into a different female dog.

SONY DSC

In June 2009 five clone puppies were born and, a few months later, delivered to Symington. He named them Trustt, Solace, Valor, Prodigy, and Deja Vu, and said he planned to train them all as search as rescue dogs who would carry on Trakr’s legacy.

They seem to have fallen out of the limelight since then, and their Facebook page hasn’t been updated for a couple of years.

Earlier this year, the man who pushed dog cloning and sponsored the “Golden Clone Giveaway,” in an apparent turnaround, said cloning dogs — a service still offered in South Korea — was not a viable, profitable, or humane pursuit, noting that it took up to 80 dogs to clone just one.

Lou Hawthorne headed BioArts, and spearheaded the earliest (unsuccessful) efforts to clone dog at Texas A&M University. That research was funded by University of Phoenix founder John Sperling, who died last month.

While some of the main characters involved in dog cloning seem to be fading from public view, from Trakr’s clones to Sperling, dog cloning is not — Sooam Biotech is still carrying out clonings for customers who want duplicates of their dead or dying pets, at a price that has dropped to about $100,000.

But back to the dog who is in the news — Bretagne. She returned this week to the site of the former World Trade Center complex with her longtime handler and owner, where they were interviewed by Tom Brokaw for NBC’s Today Show.

Bretagne (pronounced “Brittany”) is one of eight finalists for the American Humane Association’s annual Hero Dog Awards, and later this month she’ll travel with her owner to Beverly Hills for the awards ceremony.

My hunch, and hope, is that Bretagne is not destined to be cloned, and that her owner realizes what many customers of dog cloning have not — every dog, and every person, is one of a kind. And one of a kind means one of a kind. That special something inside your dog can’t be re-created in a laboratory.

“DOG, INC.” struts its stuff

“Thought Provoking?” It’s not like winning best in show at Westminster, but I’ll take the sign my book appears under at this bookstore as a compliment.

A friend sent me this photo, taken at the Barnes & Noble in Towson, which shows “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend” getting some pretty decent display (at least better than the bottom shelf of the astronomy section, as was the case at an area bookstore that shall remain nameless).

I can think of no other sign I would like my book to be under — except maybe “New York Times Bestseller.”

Alas, it’s not there yet, but it did rate the “Page 99 Test,” a website by Marshal Zeringue dedicated to the proposition that the quality of a book can be judged by turning to, and reading, its 99th page.

I lucked out in that page 99 of “DOG, INC.” contains a revelation — namely who it was that located Genelle Guzman, the last survivor found after 9/11, and held her hand until she could be freed from the mound of debris she was trapped under.

(Clue: It wasn’t the volunteer firefighters who took credit for rescuing her on CNN)

If you’re wondering what this has to do with cloning dogs, you can click the link to Marshal’s blog or, better yet, buy the book and allow your thoughts — and perhaps more — to be provoked.

The search and rescue dogs of 9-11

This tribute was put together by The Dog Files, honoring the more than 300 search and rescue dogs that responded to 9-11.

Clones of Trakr to be delivered to owner today

trakrRetired police officer James Symington will receive five clones of his late search and rescue dog, Trakr, at a press conference in Los Angeles today.

BioArts International, a Northern California biotech company, will be presenting Symington with five puppies — all clones of Trakr — at a press conference.

Symington, who says his retired police dog found the last survivor of 9/11, won the “Golden Clone Giveaway” contest sponsored by BioArts International in 2008. His essay explained why Trakr was an ideal candidate for cloning.

The company’s other dog cloning clients — one of five dogs cloned for customers in connection with an online auction has been delivered –have paid an average of $144,000 to clone their canine pets. Symington will receive his puppy clones of Trakr for free.

BioArts International says it holds the sole, worldwide license for the cloning of dogs, cats and endangered species, and is partnered with Sooam Biotech Research Foundation of South Korea. Sooam was established by Hwang Woo-Suk, who led the team that produced the world’s first canine clone, Snuppy,  in 2005, but was fired the next year for falsifying research related to cloning human embryos.

“We received many very touching submissions to our contest, describing some truly amazing dogs,” says Lou Hawthorne, CEO of Bio Arts International. “But Trakr’s story blew us away. His many remarkable capabilities were proven beyond all doubt in our nation’s darkest hour – and we’re proud to have cloned him successfully.”

Trakr was credited with hundreds of arrests and recovered more than $1 million in stolen goods during his career as a police search-and-rescue dog. Symington, a Halifax, Nova Scotia police officer at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, arrived with Trakr at Ground Zero. According to Symington, Trakr located the last human survivor to be found in the rubble.

“Once in a lifetime, a dog comes along that not only captures the hearts of all he touches but also plays a private role in history,” Symington wrote in his winning essay.

Trakr was presented with an extraordinary service to humanity award by Dr. Jane Goodall, United Nations “Messenger of Peace.”

“They’re identical – down to the smallest detail,” Symington said when meeting  the Trakr clones on Sunday. “Few dogs are born with exceptional abilities – Trakr was one of those dogs. And if these puppies have the same attributes as Trakr, I plan on putting them in to search and rescue so they can help people the way Trakr did.”

In order to clone Trakr,  Hwang’s team replaced the genes in eggs from unrelated dogs with genes from Trakr, stimulated the resulting “couplets” to develop into embryos, then transferred the embryos to dogs who served as surrogate mothers. After normal pregnancies, they gave birth to puppies that are genetically identical to Trakr, the first of which was born December 8, 2008 and the last on April 4, 2009. All were born and weaned in Seoul, South Korea, and all are in excellent health, BioArts says.

“9-11 was a terrible shock for Korean people as well as Americans,” said Dr. Hwang by email from Seoul, Korea. “These five clones of Trakr, who saved a human life at Ground Zero, are a gift not just to Mr. Symington, but to America and the world.”

(Photo: Symington, Hawthorne and clones; courtesy of BioArts International)

Dog that won cloning contest passes away

Trakr, the German Shepherd search and rescue dog whose owner won an an essay contest to have him cloned, died last week at his home. He was 16.

Trakr was credited with hundreds of arrests and recovered more than one million dollars in stolen goods while serving the police department of Halifax, Nova Scotia. After the dog retired, his owner, and police department handler, James Symington, took TrakR to the World Trade Center after 9/11 to assist in search efforts.

There, according to Symington, Trakr, in addition to finding several casualties, found the last survivor in the rubble of 9/11 — Genelle Guzman.

Afterwards, Trakr was presented with the Extraordinary Service to Humanity Award by Dr. Jane Goodall, and was featured in books and magazines dedicated to 9/11 heroes including, “Dog World” and “In the Line of Duty.”

After his 9/11 work, Trakr collapsed from smoke and chemical inhalation, burns and exhaustion. Likely a result of this exposure, the press release announcing his death says, Trakr was disabled for the past two years.

Symington, whose trip to the World Trade Center was considered an unauthorized absence by his police department, left the department and moved to California afterwards to pursue an acting career. He took Trakr with him. Symington says the police department was considering a policy to euthanize retiring K9 dogs.

Commenting on Trakr’s life, Symington said, “I am honored to have been Trakr’s partner, best friend and lifelong companion. He possessed a rare combination of uncanny intuition, pure heart, and relentless courage and has been an inspiration to so many. He’ll live in my heart forever.”

In 2008, Trakr received international attention again when BioArts International named him the “World’s Most Cloneworthy Dog.” This honor enables Trakr’s DNA to be used to clone a puppy, which Symington, now head of entertainment talent management firm Prodigy Talent Group, plans to name Prodigy.

The press release makes no mention of the status of the cloning.

Symington is not paying for the cloning of Trakr; it was awarded to him for winning a BioArts essay contest last summer.

Symington and his wife, who live in Los Angeles, have been approached by various Hollywood executives and best-selling authors to turn Trakr’s story into a book and movie, according to the press release.

This Marley went in a different direction

During her nine-year career as a search and rescue dog, Marley sniffed around the rubble left by eight hurricanes, and crawled through the ruins of the World Trade Center, says Tampa, Florida fire rescue Captain Mark Bogush.

In the years they worked as a team, Marley never left Bogush’s side. On Wednesday, when the black lab’s stomach became twisted and distended from a condition known as canine bloat, Bogush never left hers, according to Tampa Bay Online.

“I got 12 excellent years from Marley,” saud Bogush. “The best thing for her was to go to that little puppy palace in the sky.”

Bogush said he spent years steeling himself for the possibility Marley would suffer a fatal injury in a disaster area. Instead, after retiring a few years ago, she fell victim to far more common ailments –like arthritis, hearing loss and, finally, stomach bloat. Vets predicted little possibility that surgery would lead to a full recovery. It was up to Bogush to decide whether to euthanize her.

Bogush recalled the first time he saw her, when she was a 6-month-old puppy, wreaking havoc on the home of her owner. What the owner saw as trouble waiting to happen, Bogush saw as high energy, waiting for an outlet.

She took quickly to search and rescue training and treated the work like a game of hide-and-seek. Searching amidst the rubble of the World Trade Center, Marley was motivated by the idea that if she found trapped people, they would “pop up and play with her,” Bogush said.