September 11, 2015

Celebrating hero canine in books, songs and lesson plans

Author: Liza Frenette

"But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you." – Job 12:7 

Animals have always been profound teachers. Ask any school social worker who uses a therapy dog with students; ask anyone who shares a home with a beloved pet; ask any police, firefighter or rescue professional who uses a trained dog to keep people and places safe. 

siriusToday, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America, NYSUT joins the world in remembering the people who lost their lives when planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City; the Pentagon in Washington, D.C; and a field in Pennsylvania. The world remembers the passengers on the planes, the workers who were on the job, and the firefighters, police, and volunteers who lost their lives trying to help. 

And today, many are also remembering a World Trade Center patrol dog named Sirius — which means the brightest star in the evening. His story is being used in schools to help introduce young students to the events of that day. It is much easier to look into the soft brown eyes of this honey-colored Labrador retriever than into the eyes of hate. 

Hank Fellows, a songwriter whose music is used in 9/11 remembrances across the country, wrote the children's book, Sirius, The Hero Dog of 9/11, inspired by Port Authority Police Lieutenant David Lim and his specially trained police dog, Sirius, a member of the K9 Unit.  

Through this book, Fellows said, he can simplify the complex and horrible story of that day, relating it to children through the dog's perspective. "From my experience in classrooms, most children do not understand the courage and triumph of the American spirit that took place after the terrorist attacks. It is not so much the tragedy of 9/11, but the triumph of the American spirit that I want to impart to children through my book," he said. "I realized if I told it from the dog's perspective it might be more interesting and more intimate." 

Teachers helped him craft lesson plans for students in grade 3-8, which are available for free – along with a free download of the book — on the American Federation of Teachers "Share My Lesson" website.

"The Spirit of America" and "Halfway to Heaven," two songs Fellows wrote after 9/11, were used yesterday in a memorial ceremony in the Bronx, performed by professional Broadway singers. They have been sung in the Bronx, where he grew up, and have now been used at 9/11 ceremonies in all five boroughs. (Visit www.americassongwriter.com to hear Fellows' inspiring songs.) 

Fellows became involved, through his music in annual 9/11 ceremonies. It was at one of those ceremonies where he learned about Sirius — the only police dog killed on 9/11. 

All of the dogs in this Port Authority unit were trained to smell dynamite and other dangerous things that might be brought into the Twin Towers. Sirius lived with Lim and loved going to parks for walks – where he sometimes ate flowers! 

They patrolled the Twin Towers every day. On Sept. 11, 2001 Lim and Sirius arrived at the South Tower of the World Trade Center. Later that morning they heard a loud crash, and Lim learned a plane had crashed into the top of the North Tower, and the building was on fire. Lim went to help rescue people, and left Sirius in what he thought was the safety of the K9 kennel of the South Tower. As officers and firefighters helped people in the North Tower, a plane hit the South Tower, which erupted in flames. 

The worst happened. Both towers collapsed. Lim was trapped under rubble in the North Tower for hours, but was rescued. He was the only PAPD cop to survive. Sirius was killed in the kennel in the South Tower. 

Thirty-seven Port Authority Police died that day.  

Four months later, some workers found the kennel of gentle Sirius under the rubble. Lim was on site that day; he wrapped Sirius in an American flag, and Police Honor Guard saluted as they went by. 

Today, Sirius has a few special places, in addition to the ones in the hearts of those who loved him. His leash and badge are in the 9/11 Memorial Museum, which opened in 2011 on Liberty Street in New York City. They were donated by Lim, who retired last year. The story of Lim and Sirius is also one of many in "The Stories They Tell," a book written by 9/11 Museum staff members. 

Teachers can add to lesson plans about 9/11 by having students visit a memorial site. Across the East River from where the WTC once stood, there is a memorial garden to honor 403 firefighters, police officers and emergency workers who died in the Twin Towers on 9/11. The sacred site also includes a granite monument to Sirius, who wore Badge #17. His likeness is etched in the stone, where flowers like the ones he loved to eat surrounded him.

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