Guide Dogs: A True Story of Extraordinary Survival
A routine morning for Michael Hingson, in his 78th floor office of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, ended when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the building a few floors above him at 440 mph.
Michael felt the building tilt, then right itself. A co-worker screamed of a fire outside their windows, of paper fluttering from the floors above. People ran for exits.
While pandemonium reigned around him, Michael felt a sense of purpose and calm. After all, Roselle, the latest of his guide dogs, wasn't panicking. Instead, the Labrador stood calmly at his side, waiting for her owner's command.
Michael, as the highest ranking executive in his office that morning, ushered his employees and visitors to safety before calling his wife and then evacuating himself.
Then, Michael, who has been blind since birth, directed Roselle to the stairway and the two began the arduous journey down 78 floors. Firefighters passed them, heading the opposite direction. Some patted Roselle as they worked their way up toward the fire.
"We don't know if they came back down," Michael said of the brave first responders.
The danger wasn't over once Roselle and Michael made it outside. They were just 100 yards away from the building when the South Tower collapsed behind them, enveloping them in a solid cloud of choking dust. "We ran for our lives," Michael said.
Roselle stopped him just once when she sensed a stairwell ahead of them. If Michael had continued, he would have tumbled down it. "She was doing exactly what we had to do," Michael said. "She remained completely and totally focused."
Their survival that day depended on their teamwork and trust in each other. "The purpose of a guide dog is to make sure we walk safely," Michael said. "It's my job to make sure where we are going. It's a true team effort."
That message of teamwork resonates, which is why Michael now shares his experiences worldwide as an inspirational speaker and as an author of two books about his canine partner. Michael tells his listeners and readers that his ability in overcoming everyday hurdles and surviving in extraordinary circumstances is dependent upon trust.
"This concept of being part of a team and having full trust in my team member specifically, in this case, my dog resonates," Michael said.
Michael has partnered with guide dogs since he was 14. His current dog, Africa, accompanies him on his speaking tours.
Roselle died in 2011 at the age of 13, though Michael had retired her several years before because her health was affected by an immune disorder that might have been caused by her exposure to toxins on September 11.
But she lives on in Michael's message, which he sees as a fitting tribute to the dog he credits with saving his life.
"Our survival was dependent on our teamwork, in every sense of the word," Michael said. "That human-animal bond, that trust and faith, helped me live another day."
This is just one of many harrowing stories of guide dogs going above and beyond their normal duties. It is the acute sense that dogs have that have led them to be such vital pieces of the lives of people with disabilities.
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer in Erie, Pa.