Study: WTC rescue dogs getting better medical care than people

Copyright 2002 Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service
Daily News (NY)...12/23/2002

By Heidi Evans

NEW YORK _ World Trade Center rescue dogs are getting better, more expensive and longer-term medical monitoring than World Trade Center rescue people.

A $ 500,000 privately funded five-year study by the University of Pennsylvania is providing comprehensive medical workups for 131 dogs that searched the toxic rubble for survivors and remains at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and the Staten Island landfill. A dozen rescue dogs also will get free, annual, state-of-the-art $ 1,200 MRIs of their nasal passages to check for early signs of cancer.

In addition, Veterinary Pet Insurance of California has donated lifetime medical policies to every rescue dog in the study, and FedEx is transporting hundreds of lab specimens around the country at no cost.

By contrast, President Bush vetoed a bill that contained $ 90 million to monitor the long-term health of 35,000 rescue workers and volunteers who were exposed to toxic debris in the days and weeks after Sept. 11.

And the $ 12 million the federal government gave for health screening at Mount Sinai Medical Center will be depleted in July. Only 9,000 rescue workers will have been seen unless more money is approved.

The Mount Sinai program costs about $ 1,333 per person. The Penn study allocates about $ 3,105 per dog.

"Are you kidding?" said Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., when told about the canine study. "I'm all for taking care of the dogs. . . . But what is most important is that thousands of brave men and women who did not think twice about doing their part at Ground Zero need their health closely monitored, and the administration must provide the necessary funding to do so."

A New York Daily News story revealed last week that half of the 2,500 rescue workers and volunteers who have been screened by Mount Sinai doctors to date are plagued by posttraumatic stress syndrome, persistent coughs and lower respiratory problems.

Despite intense lobbying by Clinton and the New York congressional delegation, Bush vetoed a bill in August that would have provided the $ 90 million for long-term health tracking, in part to detect certain environmentally linked cancers.

The possibility of cancer and detecting it early in rescue dogs is also a major concern to animal researchers.

"These dogs are an important resource and need to be taken care of," said Deborah Lynch, executive vice president of the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, which initiated the rescue dog study. "We owe them something for their heroic work."

The irony of paying more attention to dogs than humans is not lost on many, including the University of Pennsylvania veterinarian who is heading up the large-scale canine study.

"It is ironic," said Dr. Cynthia Otto, who spent eight days at Ground Zero with the Pennsylvania Urban Search and Rescue team, otherwise known as Riley, Willow, Logan and Bear. "What I breathed in at Ground Zero has implications for my health. No one is studying me, yet I'm studying the dogs."

"I hope we find nothing bad for the dogs, but if we do, I hope it's helpful for the people who were at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon," she said.

The dogs in Otto's study get a full battery of blood tests, X-rays and toxicology exams to see whether dangerous poisons such as lead and PCBs are present. The handlers also have been asked to fill out lengthy questionnaires about the dogs' behavior and medical history.

So far, toxicology tests have come back negative, Otto said.

A separate study of 30 New York City dogs that worked at Ground Zero and the Staten Island landfill also is ongoing. Dr. Philip Fox of the Animal Medical Center said these dogs are being examined for acute and chronic illness.

"The concern for the rescue dogs is admirable," said Dr. Stephen Levin, director of World Trade Center screening program at Mount Sinai. "But certainly the thousands of men and women who risked their health to try to save the lives of others deserve at least as much."

Brad Gair, a local official with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told The New York Daily News that only $ 367 million remains in FEMA's budget for the city.

"New York has more needs than the remaining funds may permit us to cover," said Gair

Steve Nolan, a Long Island crane operator who was recently examined at Mount Sinai for respiratory problems, said he was disgusted that Bush had quashed the $ 90 million.

"I'm not surprised that we are getting shortchanged," said Nolan. "It's politics as usual. You have to remember, the dogs are not going to sue."


(c) 2002, New York Daily News.