Photograph captured from YouTube video by the American Humane Association.
In the February issue of The Washingtonian, on stands now, you’ll find a special pets section that includes profiles of Washington’s “wonder pets.” These are animals that have survived against all odds or performed acts of bravery, or that make a difference in their communities. But we wanted to highlight one of them here. Sage, a 13-year-old border collie, is a real hero.
Sage lives in New Mexico, but she’ll forever be connected to Washington. She has been a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) search-and-rescue dog since she was 18 months old. Her first real mission was to search through the Pentagon after 9/11. Amid the rubble she sniffed out the body of the terrorist who had flown American Flight 77 into the building.
Since then, Sage has traveled to seven countries and participated in many high-profile missions. She searched for survivors following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and went to Aruba to look for the body of Natalee Holloway, who disappeared there in 2005.
Sage served in Iraq in 2007 and 2008, where she recovered human remains. Her owner and handler, Diane Whetsel, who accompanied her, says she fell into another role while living in the war zone: “Sage turned out to be the warm fur for soldiers to cry into, or just a playmate.”
The American Humane Association named Sage a 2011 Hero Dog. She mingled with members of Congress at a Veterans Day event honoring all the Hero Dogs. But her job has taken a toll. Sage is battling two rare forms of respiratory cancer, likely the result of sniffing through toxic sites. She’s getting the best care, but to help provide medical treatment to other service dogs, Whetsel started the Sage Foundation for Dogs Who Serve. The nonprofit’s mission is to “promote the welfare of dogs who have faithfully served (often in harm’s way) in wars, police work, crime prevention, and rescue efforts.”
Illness hasn’t dampened Sage’s spirit. While the dog was recovering from a recent surgery, Whetsel hid toys around the room for her to find: “It was like a healing thing for her—she was able to do her job.”
Look for our February 2012 issue feature on pets on Feb. 21.