Bear, an eleven-year old Golden Retriever born on November 1, 1989, was the first dog to arrive on the scene and get straight to work in the midst of the disaster at the World Trade Center during the morning hours of September 11, 2001. A veteran member of the canine search-and-rescue team, Bear and his owner/handler, Captain Scott Shields (Director of Marine Safety for the New York City Urban Parks Service), spent the early days following the tragedy sifting through the tons of debris at Ground Zero. Bear's instincts for knowing where to search were seldom, if ever, wrong.
With his mild manner and expressive brown eyes, Bear had worked on many search missions and had traveled the globe with his human companion and owner. Not only was he adept at finding missing persons, Bear was also proficient in tracking and retrieving wounded wildlife and trained to man the boat lines of Captain Shields' marine craft. Bear's first documented rescue came at the age of eighteen months when, as a puppy, he had leapt off the side of a boat in Westport, Connecticut near Cockenoe Island, to aid a young boy who was struggling in the water. Seizing the child by the wrist, Bear had pulled the boy to shore. Seldom fearful of any dangerous situation, Bear was able to comprehend commands in both Spanish and English, as well as responding to the more traditional hand commands.
Bear and Captain Shields arrived at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan just 38 minutes after the second plane crashed into the Twin Towers. Once there, the pair worked straight through the night and into the following morning. According to firemen on the scene, Bear was the only search-and-rescue dog known to be working the entire west side of the site for approximately six or seven hours following the tragedy. Through the initial days of rescue efforts, Bear worked an exhausting eighteen hours per day searching for survivors and victims, often being hoisted into sunken pockets of rubble, glass and metal to look for bodies. Although records were kept of Bear's finds (indeed of all the finds made at the site), it is virtually impossible to make a total estimation of Bear's work in the area. As Captain Shields has stated, "How do you count the pieces?" Nevertheless, it is believed that Bear probably garnered the most hits of any rescue worker who searched the area...man or dog. Bear is also credited with making the only live finds by a canine, as well discovering the remains of the much-loved New York Fire Department Chief, Peter Canci.
In recognition of his contribution to the World Trade Center rescue effort, Bear was the recipient of many honors. The 2003 Guiness Book of World Records declared this courageous canine to be the "most celebrated dog in the world." Bear also led New York City's Columbus Day Parade down Fifth Avenue in the Fall of 2001 and, on November 17, 2001, Bear and Captain Shields were presented with "The Hero's Award" by the International Cat Society at the Westchester County Cat Show, something which Captain Shields stated, "brought the first smile to my face since the incident, just the irony of the cats giving a dog an award." Bear received many such honors. His valiant participation at the World Trade Center in September of 2001, however, did not leave him unscathed. The long hours and hard work took its toll. Bear's back was injured by a jagged piece of metal on the first night but, after being treated at a triage center on the site, he went straight back to work. Later, the area around this wound would become cancerous and his weight would drop from from 110 pounds to 64 pounds. In all, Bear spent over a year in and around the smouldering site which had once been the location of New York City's World Trade Center...bringing a smile to otherwise grim faces and buoying flagging spirits with a wag of his tail.
Sadly, Bear passed away on September 23, 2002, six weeks short of his thirteenth birthday. He had been suffering for some time with the effects of multiple forms of cancer...at first thought to be an arthritic condition, although Bear's autopsy later revealed that he did not have arthritis. During the last year of his life, Bear appeared at many fund-raising events in the Greater New York area and received countless accolades for his lifetime of courageous work. After his death, the gentle and gallant Golden Retriever was honored with with a funeral as a New York City Firefighter. His body was transported by an FDNY Aviation Company from the New York Animal Medical Center to the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery Crematorium and his ashes taken home by Captain Shields who keeps them in a plain gold box adorned with a plaque which records Bear's date of birth, date of death and is inscribed with the words: "Bear Shields, Hero of the World Trade Center."
On October 13, 2002, the State Senate passed a proclamation making that day "Captain Scott Shields and Bear Day" in New York. On October 27, 2002, the USS Intrepid hosted a memorial service for Bear beside the Sea-Air-Space Museum in Manhattan. Hundreds of people and a few dozen dogs attended the ceremony. An officer played Taps, an opera singer sang "Ava Maria" and a fly-by missing man formation was provided by Flight Across America. It was a fitting goodbye to a relentless and untiring hero, but perhaps the best tribute that can be paid to Bear is one which came from Firefighter Jean Paul Augier in a Comcast interview on the second afternoon at ground zero. He described how Bear was "phenomenal" and "amazing," working as hard as any human on the site and never hesitating to climb up over pieces of steel and crushed concrete. "How much do you credit Bear with?" Firefighter Augier was asked. He replied with one word..."Everything!"
To those of us who never had the opportunity or good fortune to scratch behind your ears or be blessed with a friendly lick upon the hand, you became a golden beacon of hope in those dark days following September 11, 2001. You were a symbol of untiring dedication and optimism...a "poster dog" representative of all the courageous canines. Indeed, the images of you walking through the rubble, carrying your beloved owner's helmet in your mouth, is said to have brought a smile to the weary rescue teams who, as the days went past, found there was less and less to smile about.
You are sorely missed by those who loved you, Bear.
You always will be.
You were a good dog.
A foundation has now been established in Bear's name to raise funds which will:
(1) pay for the health care of the SAR K-9s that worked the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon (and eventually, all SAR dogs);
(2) provide Emergency Management Training to SAR units throughout the United States;
(3) equip search-and-rescue teams in the United States; and
(4) provide free air transport for SAR Teams.
In the words of Captain Shields, Bear "lives on in his continued good deeds."
"They Are Not Dead Who Live
In The Hearts They Leave Behind Them..."
--Hugh Robert Orr--
Please click on the golden pawprint below to visit the "Photographs And Memories" area of this "Tribute to Bear" site.
The majority of what is displayed was generously provided by Bear's owner, Captain Scott Shields and used with permission.
However, please do not print any of these images or use them in the creation of tubes, stationery or any other form of
website design without express prior authority. Specifically, these images are not to be used for personal monetary gain,
their primary objective being to aid solely in the promotion of the "Bear Search And Rescue Foundation." In honor of Bear's legacy,
it is requested they be used for no other purpose and cooperation in that regard is truly appreciated.
This "Tribute to Bear" area of "Rainbow Bridge" has been viewed
and approved as to authenticity of content by Bear's owner, comrade,
companion and friend, Captain Scott Shields.
However, it should be noted that Captain Shields always preferred to be
known as Bear's "dad" rather than his "owner." Indeed, he assisted Honey,
Bear's mother, in Bear's delivery when the little pup was born in November
of 1989...beneath Captain Shield's desk.
Thank you for sharing the memories and the images, Scott.
Special mention should also be made of an autobiography entitled
"Bear: Heart of Hero," co-authored by Captain Shields and Ms. Nancy West.
Many of the photographs to be found on this site are courtesy of Ms. West.
The book will be introduced to the public on September 6, 2003 during a
Service Dog event scheduled to take place at the Intrepid Air Sea and Space
Museum in New York Harbor...an event for which Captain Shields is responsible.