September 11 Working Dog Recognition Ceremony Address

September 11,  2011   

Good morning, Senator Lautenberg, Dr. Otto, distinguished guests and members of the Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams. I almost regret that we have to be here today to commemorate such a horrific event in our nation's history. The enormity of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, is still almost too overwhelming to fully comprehend. What started out as a day too beautiful to believe, ended with a day too tragic to comprehend.

On that day, members of the American Veterinary Medical Association's VMAT 1 team, based out of Massachusetts, started their day much like you and me. They got up, had breakfast and headed off to their practices to carry out their veterinary oath to protect animal health and relieve animal suffering. By that afternoon, they were standing in the middle of hell.

Over the next 50 days, 51 members of four VMAT teams worked at the heart of Ground Zero aiding in the search-and-rescue efforts, providing more than 900 medical treatments to the 300 search-and-rescue dogs that served at the disaster site. Facing repeated exposure to biological and chemical agents that penetrated the area … not to mention the tremendous emotional strain under which all the first responders worked … members of these courageous veterinary medical teams often had to be forced to end their days after 18- or 20-hour shifts.

Arthur Ashe, legendary tennis player, once said, "True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others, at whatever cost."

Serving others at whatever cost is what the VMAT teams did 10 years ago at Ground Zero. They did what they do best – they took care of the animals. And, in their own way, they took care of the dog handlers – giving them the peace of mind that came with knowing the finest emergency veterinary services were immediately available should their dogs get sick or injured.

There are many unsung heroes from that awful day and those difficult times. We would be remiss if we didn't remember all of them and the sacrifices they made. But there will always be a special place in our hearts and minds for the veterinary teams who have served this nation for almost 20 years – but never more courageously than at Ground Zero. You have the unwavering admiration of your colleagues in veterinary medicine, and the heartfelt appreciation of your nation. Thank you for your service to this great nation, and the nation's animals.