Search and rescue dog dies after life of service

TAMPA - Her first mission was to search for survivors amidst the wreckage of the World Trade Center.

She was deployed to Punta Gorda after Hurricane Charley in 2004, then to Biloxi, Miss., after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

When she wasn't searching areas deemed too dangerous for people, Jessie often visited sick children to brighten their day or showed up at local schools to help teach safety lessons.

Jessie, a search and rescue dog for Tampa Fire Rescue and a member of the state's Urban Search and Rescue team, died Sunday after an illness. The yellow Labrador was 13.

"She was a great search dog and taught me to be a better handler," Tampa Fire Rescue Lt. Roger Picard said in a written statement.

Jessie had been in retirement for three years at the Oldsmar home of Al and Sandy Tupper, Picard said.

"During her retirement years, Jessie provided them with companionship and laughter," Picard said. "The Tuppers returned the favor by accepting her as their own and feeding her plenty of treats."
Picard was at Jessie's side when she died.

Jessie was one of Tampa Fire Rescue's first certified search and rescue dogs. Marley, a black Labrador trained by Capt. Mark Bogush, died in February. Together, Jessie and Marley helped locate 10 bodies at ground zero after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City.

As a team, Jessie and Picard passed numerous state and federal exams for both urban search and rescue and cadaver certifications, fire rescue officials say. Jessie was certified with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and assigned to the state's urban search and rescue Task Force 2.

Picard continues to work with members of Tampa Fire Rescue's canine team, preparing new dogs for future search and rescue missions.

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