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9/11 hero dog wins insurance reprieve

Bear helped with search and rescue efforts at Ground Zero after the September 11 attacks.  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Bear, a 12-year-old golden retriever, risked his life and health to locate people trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

His human partner Scott Shields says that in the first few days after the attack Bear located more human survivors than any other dog at the site.

"I'm working with one of the better search and rescue dogs," said Shields.

Shields knew the risks they faced at the time.

"I turned to Bear and I started walking in, and I said out loud, 'Am I killing the only thing I really got left that I love in the world?'," he said.

Shields says his canine partner's heroics at Ground Zero, often working 18-hour days, took a huge toll on the dog's health.

CNN's Brian Palmer reports on a WTC rescue dog that finally got health coverage when an animal shelter agreed pay bills and medical care (July 19)

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"Bear, five months ago, could jump into a truck. Bear's collapsing now. That's not old age. It's neurological. It's something new. He doesn't have problems that just crept over the last 12 years."

Bear has had worsening arthritis and a cancerous infection which are typical in aging dogs, but his vet, Dr. Jennifer Chaitman, said they seem to have been exacerbated by Bear's rescue work at Ground Zero, though she doubts Shields' neurological theory.

Veterinary Pet Insurance, a Brea, California-based insurance company, offered free insurance policies for the more than 300 search and rescue dogs that helped at Ground Zero.

Owners of 89 of the dogs took the offer. Five, including Bear, were rejected on the basis of pre-existing health conditions.

But on Friday, Dr. Jack Stephens, CEO and founder of VPI, said he made a mistake and will cover Bear. "Hopefully Mr. Shields will accept our offer," Stephens said.

In addition, a Nassau County animal shelter offered Friday to cover the $3,000 cost of Bear's outstanding medical bills and provide him with lifetime medical care.

Shields said he hopes to start a foundation in Bear's name to benefit search-and-rescue dogs.




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