Golden Retriever 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 post below originally appeared on May 28, 2007, sad news from Riley’s dad, Chris Selfridge, prompting many heavy hearts. 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.


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

  1. Thank your for your loyal and faithful service to our country in our true time of need, Riley.
    Rest in peace sweet Golden boy! XO XO

  2. A typical Golden in that he did what he was trained to do. I doubt I will ever forget the image of Riley in that basket and wondering what he was thinking. To think that some people think that dogs are animals are dumb creatures to be left outside in a yard with no interaction or affection is beyond me. Thank you Riley, may you Rest in Peace and Chris.

  3. As a former New Yorker and human being the sight of this wonderful dog doing what he was trained for and the fact that he suffered various problems due to his service at the WTC helps me to believe that saving homeless animals and giving them a second chance is what I’m supposed to be doing. I lost many friends on 9/11 and will never forget the many hero’s who gave their all to rescue them,and now Riley is one of them.!!!!!!!Mary Lupi President/Safe Haven Animal Rescue of Fl. Inc. (SHARE)

  4. Riley your kind soul and sweet heart will never be forgotten .We thank you for being such an awesome dog and helping others.As a breeder of goldens,You make me so proud .RIP sweet boy.I am sure god has other work for you to do in heaven.Thank you Buddy

  5. I too am a former New Yorker and as many of us sat in disbelief whether from New York or not we were ALL New Yorkers that day. Our hearts sank as the towers fell. I know that there were many service dogs sent to the WTC who spent many long hours along sit their trainers and fellow rescuers and all are now suffering. Some of the rescuers not only are suffering with their own illnesses but are watching their service dogs suffer and some have died due to their unrelentless work over those months after the fall.

    My heart goes out to all who have suffered losses due to this cowardly act. Let us never forget, and God Bless you all. Thank you Riley for the ultimate sacrifice. You will be at the Rainbow Bridge waiting for us all I am sure.

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