Remembering Golden Riley: The Real (Iconic) Hero of 9/11

New York, N.Y. (Sept. 15, 2001) -- Golden Retriever SAR dog, Riley, is transported out of the debris of the World Trade Center. The twin towers of the center were destroyed in a Sept. 11 terrorist attack. U.S. Navy Photo by Journalist 1st Class Preston Keres.

This one photo has never left my mind, heart, or soul as the images
from such a tragic day tend to be indelibly marked.


The following post originally appeared on May 28, 2007, but sad news that I received today from his Riley’s dad, Chris Selfridge, prompted my giving it top billing again. My heart is truly heavy today. Although I never got to meet Riley, I loved him as did so many other folks who had been glued to their television sets after the attack on the twin towers.

On 2/26/10, Riley passed away. He was our family pet, my friend and partner. Riley was 13 in November. He lived a good life and taught me many lessons during his time with me. He will be greatly missed. I love you Bub!

Dog book author, Susan McCullough, has included Riley in her upcoming book on Golden Retrievers and learned more about his final days.

While Riley had aced a physical this past December, a mass was found in his abdomen on February 20. Surgery to remove the mass took place on February 24, but Riley died two days later.

Chris and I exchanged email last fall when I was writing my book about Golden Retrievers and wanted to feature Riley as a representative of the breed. At that point, Riley was still enjoying chasing Frisbees and had helped to welcome a new puppy into the family. He clearly was enjoying his retirement from SAR work.

I am so glad Riley was able to be by his family’s side for a little over 13 years. Cancer has kept me from having a Golden Retriever beyond the age of 11. These special souls live their lives so intensely, never tiring of seeing our faces or simply the joy of going for a walk or getting a treat. I don’t think we could ever appreciate life or live it as well as they do. So, while it seems like they have such short lives, I think they live far longer than we do when it comes to happiness and fulfillment.


May 28, 2007 Post

I have a page at the foundation site on our Disaster Search and Rescue Goldens. It details a great book, Dog Heroes of September 11th: A Tribute to America’s Search and Rescue Dogs. The book details the stories of 77 handlers and their Search and Rescue dogs who responded at the World Trade Center & Pentagon following the September 11th attacks. It shows a photo of Dissaster SAR Golden, Riley.

Riley is one of the most famous dogs of Sept. 11 because of a photo taken of him at the World Trade Center site a few days after the attacks. In the photo, Riley is in a basket being sent over a 60-foot-deep canyon to search the rubble of the North Tower. “Normally when we send a dog, the handler goes with him,” said Riley’s trainer, Chris Selfridge. “This time we decided it was more practical to just send the dog.”

I also recently learned of video being available of Golden Riley through SAR worker and author extraordinaire, Susannah Charleson. She is most familiar with this apparatus on Riley as she has trained in activities with similar gear with her SAR Golden Puzzle.

It is wonderful to actually have footage of the Golden Retriever who really DID work at the World Trade Center (separating him from those preposterous claims made by Scott Shields).

Riley is now retired, and suffers from various skin problems and the like due to his time at Ground Zero.


20 thoughts on “Remembering Golden Riley: The Real (Iconic) Hero of 9/11

  1. For Chris and family — our hearts ache for you in this time of grief and loss — may you be comforted by the immense memories of your dear Riley…
    Golden hugs from Stephanie and Ellie-dog in northern California

  2. Thanks for sharing Riley the way you did and for giving him a wonderful life. Truly inspirations to us all!

  3. Sending sympathies & love to the Selfridge family. I remember when Chris & Riley presented a slideshow and demonstration at Goldstock.

    Thank you for sharing Riley with us.

    Jody, John & Scout

  4. Chris I am so sad about the passing of that precious hunk of love. I know you must be empty without Riley but he had a good life with you and is a World Hero. I’m sitting here with the Dog Heroes of September 11th on my lap looking at Riley sleeping. I have pictures of him on my computer since that time and know just how special he is to you. My heart and prayers go out to you for we can never replace such a loss. Live with the love and wonderful memories you and your family shared with Riley. He will always be with you my friend. I have 3 Golden rescues, they are wonderful dogs. Thank you for sharing Riley with the world, God Bless you all, Lynn Estes

  5. My heart goes out to you for your loss. I understand because I lost my 13 year old golden a year ago and miss her still. Goldens are the most wonderful dogs. Riley will be in heaven, I’m sure.

  6. I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your most precious Riley. He was an inspiration for what he did so selflessly. Though I know your hearts are aching, remember he would not want you to drown in sorrow. He lived his life to love you and your family and also to help others.
    My heart goes out to you and your family!!! You will be in my prayers.
    God bless,

  7. Run free sweet Riley. Deepest sympathies to Chris and family.

    Hugs from Nadine in Philadelphia, rescue doggie Apples & golden Neeli

  8. Chris,

    My heart and prayers go out to you and your family. We lost our senior Golden, Omar, on 12/31/10. I know it is a devastating thing to go through. What a beautiful and brave boy Riley was. I know Riley knew he was loved and felt blessed to have had a wonderful life with you. He was a special boy that will never be forgotten. Love & prayers, Rebecca & Buddy Croucher, Morgan & Scout

  9. My heart goes out to you ~ having lost two precious Golden friends in the last 5 weeks, I feel your pain and grief. Memories will keep them with us always, in our hearts forever until we meet again!

    Bless you and your family ~

  10. All the GReat work Riley did in his life will be his legacy to the world and his love, his legacy to his family.

  11. I was so sorry to hear about your loss. I am still missing our Golden who died almost 2 years ago from lymphoma. These are such wonderful, joyous dogs, that it makes losing them that much harder. Riley was an exceptional Golden and will be much missed by Golden lovers everywhere.

  12. Heartfelt sympathies to your family on the loss of this precious soul. Riley embodied everything we love about goldens. He was there when our country needed him the most, and did his job with courage and bravery we’ll never forget. He’ll live on in our hearts, and will be there to greet you at the Bridge.

  13. Chris, God Bless you. Thank you for sharing Riley with the world. Thank you for loving him so . He had a good life that is clear and you allowed something that blessed you so much to bless others in their darkest hour. I know that he is in Heaven loving everyone there like he did here.
    Rest In Peace dear sweet Riley we will not forget you!you live in us.

  14. Dear Chris and family,

    Neither tears nor kind words of sympathy can accurately address the sense of loss you must feel at Riley’s passing. I have no doubt that Riley continues to walk by your side, protecting you at every turn. A dog’s spirit lives on with us–always. What an honor it must be to have had him as your partner!


  15. Dear Chris and Riley’s family,
    I want to express my gratitude to you for sharing your wonderful dog with the world. I just watched the video of him at WTC and of course it brought tears to my eyes. You deserve all good things in life. I know Riley has crossed the Rainbow Bridge but he is there waiting for all of us to give him a big huge Golden hug.

  16. To own a golden retriever and experience their love and courage is something I wish for every human being. I am so sorry for your loss. He was very special.

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