A guide dog led his blind owner to safety during last week’s attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York
It was the day and place which was to put the bond between guide dog and owner to the ultimate test. The day was Tuesday, 11 September; the place was the World Trade Centre in New York.
Michael Hingson was in his office on the 78th floor in the north tower of the World Trade Centre. His yellow Labrador guide dog, Roselle, was sleeping under his desk.
Michael, district sales manager for computer company, Quantum ATL, has been totally blind since he was a teenager.
“I heard a loud noise like a bump and then a lot of shaking, ” he said. “The building started swaying – of course, they’re made to sway. The air was filled with smoke, fire, paper and the smell of kerosene.”
The hijacked plane had struck 15 floors above him. His first thought was to call his wife and then make sure everyone in the office was evacuated safely.
“We knew the emergency exit procedures and people did a very good job of following them to get out, ” said Michael.
Roselle led him to the stairwell to begin the long decent downwards, sometimes guiding, sometimes following behind him when things were tight.
When they were on the 50th floor, the second plane hit the south tower but they didn’t feel it and there was no way to know what had happened.
“By the time we reached the bottom, it had become very hard to breath,” said Michael.
“We were both hot and tired. Roselle was panting and wanted to drink the water that was pooled on the floor.”
They continued walking away from the building. When they were about two blocks away, the second building began to collapse. They broke into a run and made it safely home.
The day after the disaster, they were both said to be stiff and sore, but otherwise “fine”. Roselle was said to be sleeping a lot but occasionally playing with Michael’s retired guide dog, Linnie.
“For me the saddest part was talking to the firemen as they were coming up the stairs – that’s what I’ll remember most.”
Roselle is Michael’s fifth dog form the Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California, which exists from charitable donations.
Michael was not the only blind person to survive the attack with the help of a guide dog. Another man, Eduardo Rivera, is reported to have been led to safety by his dog, Dorado, from the 70th floor. The dog reportedly refused to leave his owner’s side even though Eduardo gave him the chance to escape on his own.
To make a donation Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California visit www.guidedogs.com