New York animals were also horribly affected by 9/11, including a Boston terrier named Gabriel
A month into our marriage, my new husband and I brought a scruffy, six-month-old Boston terrier to our home in North Carolina. We had driven an hour to visit a breeder and then fell in love with the pup the breeder called a “misfit”.
“Li’l Rocky does not meet breed standards as he already weighs over 30 pounds,” the breeder warned. “Also, his nose isn’t Boston’s favorite nose. It’s long instead of chunky, and it’s out of proportion to his body. While he was buzzing, I studied the paws short of the dog, his robust chest, his protruding eyes and I fell in love.
“Let’s take him home with us,” I whispered to Brian. He nodded.
We didn’t know much about Boston terrier breed standards, but we knew Li’l Rocky needed a name change, so we thought about the situation on the way home. “Well, we live on Gabriel’s Bend drive; we could call him Gabriel,” Brian suggested.
Stroking his fur, I added, “He looks like a little angel. We could call her Gaby for short.
When we arrived home, Little Rocky, now Gabriel, seemed delighted with the two acres of countryside available to him. And we were thrilled with our new addition to the family.
But we were a little apprehensive about how this country dog would adjust when we returned to New York the following July, moving from a house with two acres of grass to an 800 square foot apartment on the 24th floor in the financial district. However, Gaby didn’t look shabby and he particularly enjoyed our 300 square foot terrace, which was also my favorite spot. While I sipped my coffee and gazed out at the Twin Towers – just six blocks away – Gaby lay on her side on the red brick floor and soaked up the sun.
Several times a day, I left Gabriel and went for a walk. I loved that my country dog adapted so easily to city life and his new “yard”. We walked to nearby Battery Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan Island, and gazed at the Statue of Liberty. Then we would make our way to the World Trade Center to explore Austin J. Tobin Square.
But our fun adaptation to city life fell apart just two months after we moved to Manhattan. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Brian and I stood on our patio watching smoke billow from the North Tower of the World Trade Center, alarmed and bewildered by reports that a small plane had struck the skyscraper. Suddenly a passenger jet roared overhead and flew straight into the South Tower.
The impact threw us backwards into our living room and knocked us out briefly. When I regained consciousness, a terrified Gabriel was moaning and panting as he jumped onto my chest. Panicked, I jumped to my feet and rushed out of the apartment, barefoot and still wearing my cotton nightgown.
Brian grabbed Gabriel, threw him over his shoulder, and then we galloped down 24 floors. As they took refuge in nearby Battery Park, the ground began to shake suddenly and without warning. Thousands of people started screaming in terror when we realized a tower was falling.
People were running blindly in all directions, dodging trees, jumping through bushes and catapulting themselves over railings. The park had become a giant obstacle course. I froze in terror like a mass of Something hit me in the face. Grime filled my nose and mouth, covered my pajamas, and coated every pore of my unprotected skin.
I looked at Gaby who was panting heavily, her mouth hanging open and her tongue hanging out, shaking with fear. He started licking his fur. “Stop!” I screamed through the dress I had on over my nose and mouth and pushed his head to the side. I understood that Gabriel was just trying to clean himself up, but I was worried about what he was ingesting.
After about three hours of wandering in a storm of dust and smoke, we managed to board a boat bound for New Jersey that had been sent to evacuate us from Manhattan Island.
For two days, Gabriel constantly vomited. We found a vet near us at my friend’s apartment. After observing Gabriel overnight, the vet updated us on his condition, informing us that Gaby had cuts to his esophagus and was in severe respiratory distress.
I had read in the paper that the dust that covered us when the towers fell was filled with powdered concrete, asbestos, jet fuel, glass, wood particles, pulverized electrical equipment and even leftovers humans. The animals are low to the ground, so they couldn’t help but breathe in this toxic dust more directly than humans. I recalled memories of Gabriel running through the dust, tongue hanging out, trying to lick it off his fur.
As the vet rattled off the list of ailments, Brian and I grew more and more worried. I wondered if the vet was implying that Gabriel might not survive, but I was too scared to ask him. We picked up Gaby and returned to our temporary home, as we weren’t able to return to our apartment yet.
We were able to come back a few weeks later and had to deal with dirt and debris for months. But Gabriel slowly improved. And U.S. too.
Years later, we discovered that Gabriel had rare stomach cancer. Brian and I said goodbye to Gabriel on May 12, 2009. We were heartbroken at his death and blamed 9/11 for his untimely death. But we also felt blessed to have loved this little creature during its time on earth, just as we felt lucky to have survived the attacks together. Twenty-one years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, we also feel grateful to be still alive. But we still mourn our angel Gabriel, as well as the nearly 3,000 humans who died that day. We will do this for the rest of our lives.