In August of 2001, Sarah Sypniewski joined an AmeriCorps program called the National Rapid Response Corps. She was assigned to serve in a Los Angeles service center of the American Red Cross, expected to be teaching CPR and First Aid as well as assisting families recovering from any local or national disasters. What Sarah and the others could never have expected was that only one month later September 11th would happen. And it would change the world. Being a brave woman, Sarah stepped forward to join the many heroes of our country and accepted a new role as caseworker for the hundreds of people who had lost everything in 9/11. Her new responsibilities were to listen to their stories, assess their loss, and provide assistance. She kept it together, she provided aid, and she stayed strong for the individuals she was there to help. But when the many therapy dogs came to offer unconditional love, tender kisses, and sweet companionship, Sarah began to feel. Even though she will be the first to tell you she was not a victim of 9/11, even though she may still feel like she didn’t deserve to grieve, one thing is for certain: she was there to help others. And in doing so she opened her heart to the plight of this great tragedy. The therapy dogs of 9/11 made it possible for Sarah to support others because they healed her own broken heart, because they helped her deal with the weight of all those feelings and fears surrounding her.

Below is a poem that Sarah wrote about her experience. We’re so grateful she chose to share it with us, and that her generous spirit was able to give during a time of so much loss. On this day, we wish to honor the people and animals who helped heal our nation, who offered strength and kindness when it was needed most. We wish to remember the victims of 9/11 with tremendous respect and honor. We hope we can all continue to come together, humans and animals, to live a more compassionate existence.

Paws Amidst Pain 

by Sarah Sypniewski, November 2001

Dedicated to the therapy dogs at Pier 94 in NYC who worked so hard responding to the human mess of 9/11, particularly to my special friend, Wusel. Thank you, dogs and humans for your undying love.

The hours upon hours you pad through these paths of pain
are the hours you help us see the light through the pouring rain.
You never falter, never fail, and always call to mind
the joy and inspiration that’s sometimes hard to find.

As we muddle through the wreckage that’s half hope and half despair,
you stand by like an anchor, tail wagging in the air.
With every touch, you heal us–from fur to human heart.
Solace in each stroke, you prevent our falling apart.

You never complain and though you cry, you do not show your tears–
you swallow them back, hold your post, and calm so many fears.
Your spirit penetrates our beings right into our souls.
You let us touch and talk to you as we try to fill the holes.

There are times we want to just give up and head back to our homes
and there you are with pricked up ears and then we’re not alone.
You sigh, surrender, and knowingly roll onto your back:
“Here’s my tummy – you can have it…just give me a snack.”

You do so much for us that we just can’t do ourselves.
You specialize in soulspeak that never ceases to delve
straight into the place we do not talk about–
you let us cry and let us laugh and get all of it out.

So before I go, I want to say I hope you know the truth:
You saved me every single day, I survived because of you.

Photo by: Kim Rodgers, Bark Pet Photography