9/11 brings first responder to ‘emotional brink’

Memories from Ground Zero haunt veterinarian

September 9, 2011 (published)
By Jennifer Fiala

Above: A search and rescue dog gets a once-over from Dr. Barry Kellogg, commander of VMAT-1 and a first responder during 9/11.

Below: Dr. Barry Kellogg dusts off name plates at the World Financial Center on Liberty Street. The building is across the street from the World Trade Center. Graffiti on the walls is written in dust from the Twin Towers collapse.

Photos courtesy of Dr. Barry Kellogg
Dr. Barry Kellogg hasn’t laid eyes on Lower Manhattan in nearly a decade. He rarely travels to New York and rejects invitations to 9/11 memorials in the city. 

Ask about his time attending to Ground Zero’s search and rescue dogs, and Kellogg rattles off particulars, such as the hours it took to canvass the disaster site's perimeter, or the fact that rescue workers logged 18- to 22-hour shifts on "the pile" in search of the missing.  

He vividly describes the dust and the grim details that accompanied it: how a lone service dog perished when the Twin Towers collapsed and the last survivor emerged from rubble 22 hours later, skirting a death toll that eventually amassed 2,753 victims. 

Getting the veterinarian to unearth his feelings about the tragedy takes greater effort. 

“The memories are unforgettable,” Kellogg says. “A lot of it is still too raw for me.” 

Nowadays, Kellogg spends his time as senior veterinary advisor for the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, traveling the world teaching advanced animal first aid for disaster responders.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Kellogg worked as a relief veterinarian in Cape Cod, Mass. He was seeing patients when a co-worker relayed that a plane had struck one of the Twin Towers.  

“At first, I thought it was a fluke involving some crazy nutball,” he says. “I was watching live television when the second plane landed the tower. That’s when I knew this was something we were going to be involved in.” 

The “we” Kellogg refers to are Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMAT). At the time, Kellogg served as commander of VMAT-1 — one of several teams of first responders positioned around the country to handle animal care during emergencies and disasters.  

As the reality of the situation set in, Kellogg phoned the Natural Disaster Medical System’s (NDMS) federal headquarters in Rockville, Md. NDMS coordinates the nation’s medical response capabilities during emergencies and disasters and directed the efforts of VMATs.  

“At first, I was told to just sit tight; the office was a zoo,” Kellogg recalls. “I literally went back to my house, packed my bags and sat there waiting to hear back. By early afternoon, I was on my way to the city.”  

Kellogg and other veterinarians met with disaster experts in human medicine at an Air Force base north of Manhattan. VMAT-1 deployed to the World Trade Center the following morning, with members from three other VMAT teams soon to follow.  

Their charge: to maintain the health of service dogs canvassing the area for the missing.  

The mission marked the first time VMATs had been deployed by the federal government. It was what the teams trained for, but upon reaching Ground Zero, the reality of the mission became “absolutely overwhelming,” Kellogg says.  

“Now there we were, and no one knew if there were biological, chemical or even nuclear threats among us,” he says. “We didn’t know that the planes were just used as missiles. We had no idea what dangers we might face.” 

Kellogg’s charge was to set up the canine medical units, and with the help of his colleagues, three separate locations were created. Working on four to five hours of sleep per night, Kellogg sent out a team of veterinary personnel each morning and each evening following updated safety briefings.  

He also was in charge of monitoring the team’s emotional well-being.  

“In disaster response, we spend a significant amount of time talking about PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or compassion fatigue — whatever name you want to put on it,” he says. "In 9/11, because of the role I was in, no one was looking after me.”  

A little more than two weeks into the mission, Kellogg recalls that he suddenly exploded for an “unjustifiable reason.” It was then that he realized he could no longer emotionally handle the situation.  

“I remember thinking, ‘uh oh, it’s time to go home,’” he says. “A lot of it, I’m sure, was because of the short sleep cycle. But disasters take on a life of their own. This one will always be with me.”  


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