9/11 survivor creates Tails of Courage

By Dirk Perrefort CT Media Group

Kristan Exner is photographed with a dog at the kennel. Photo: Carol Kaliff

Kristan Exner is photographed with a dog at the kennel. Photo: Carol Kaliff

DANBURY — Tails of Courage, a national dog rescue organization founded out of the ashes of the World Trade Center attacks, has found a permanent home in Danbury.

Brookfield’s Kristan Exner, a 9/11 survivor, local immigration attorney and founder of the group, said she has signed a lease on the former Wilcroft Kennels on Pembrook Road, the oldest kennel in Connecticut.

“The tragedy taught me a lot about life and doing the best I can every day,” Exner said. “It was important to me that I did something to honor those who didn’t make it.”

Already the facility is filled with more than 60 dogs, from puppies to adults, who are ready for adoption. The organization trains therapy dogs for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Exner, who was a paralegal working on the 52nd floor of the north tower when it was attacked on 9/11, had a cat named Otto, a therapy animal that helped her deal with her own trauma.

“He was an amazing animal,” Exner said. “He would sleep on my head and wake me up every time I would have a nightmare. I still have nightmares once in a while, but he was always there to take care of me.”

The group has rescued more than 1,000 dogs and has chapters in several states, including California, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Before leasing the Pembrook Road facility, Tales of Courage used foster homes and rented space in area kennels to house rescued dogs before they were trained or adopted.

Besides its rescue work, the group has several ongoing programs, including Traveling Tails, in which dogs visit area nursing homes and hospitals, and offers no-cost adoptions of adult animals for members of the military.

“We are really excited to have our own permanent home right here in Danbury,” Exner said. “The organization has really grown tremendously over the years, and we really needed the space. It’s growing faster than we ever envisioned.”

Cynthia Exner said her daughter began Tails of Courage because she felt a tremendous need to help others after surviving 9/11.

“She started this organization out of her house and it’s grown from there,” she said. “She always felt that she needed to do something to give back. Helping the animals and helping the community is a great way to do that.”

Kristan Exner said the group needs Danbury-area volunteers and has a wish list of supplies, including dog food, bedding and cleaning products.

“We do what we can, but we are very grateful for the generosity of others,” she said. “It’s amazing to see what beauty came come from the ashes.”

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