In 2011, 10 years after the September 11th attacks, Dutch photographer Charlotte Dumas wondered what had become of a specific group of first responders… the search and rescue dogs of 9/11 that worked tirelessly and offered comfort to others involved. So she decided to track down as many as she could on a mission to visually honor each of these unsung heroes.

Immediately following the attacks, nearly 100 trained search dogs and their handlers – enlisted “from a network of 26 active task forces from 18 different states” – were deployed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to join the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Alongside firefighters and other teams sorting through the chaos and debris, the dogs searched day and night for survivors, making sure no one would be stranded in the rubble.

As the events unfolded in the news media, the images deeply impacted Charlotte. She explains on her site:

“In my memory, the photographs of these dogs that appeared in the newspapers stayed with me most strongly: a dog being transported in a stokes basket on cables suspended high over the wreckage; another dog intently searching while maneuvering over enormous bend beams; dogs receiving eye drops after and in between shifts.

I can still recall these images clearly. The dogs searched and comforted, they gave consolation to anyone involved. Seeing these pictures, I was also comforted. They somehow emanated a spark of hope amidst this scene of destruction.”

Through FEMA, Charlotte was able to locate 15 of the dogs that took part in the rescue operations. “I visited them and portrayed them in their homes, where they all still live with their handlers across the U.S.”

Composed at close range in natural light, Charlotte’s portraits offer an intimate view into the everyday lives of these highly specialized working animals, now sharing the vulnerability of old age as they once pursued a common heroic goal. She calls the powerful series… Retrieved.

In October 2011, prints of her stunning photos were reproduced in a paperback book of the same name Charlotte Dumas: Retrieved.

[Editor’s Update 9.11.18: Charlotte posted to her Instagram earlier today about the 15 SAR dogs featured in her Retrieved book, “None of them still live today.”]

Lead image: Guinness from Highland, CA, via @charlotte_dumas