During Days of Diversity, presenter Susy Flory, author of Dog Tales, told the story of “Thunder Dog,” an inspiring account of how a blind man’s dog helped him survive the attack of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.
Michael Hingson had spent his entire life without the aid of his eyesight, having relied on his guide dog, Roselle, a playful, yellow labrador retriever who could be described as a “pixie” in regard to her ebullient personality. Flory described how Michael had sometimes felt isolated from people, and how having a guide dog meant always having a friend by his side. “There becomes this relationship of trust and teamwork that develops over time,” Flory explained.
At eight o’clock in the morning on 9/11, Michael was on the 78th floor of the North Tower doing paperwork while Roselle slept under his desk. Forty-five minutes later, Michael heard a deafening boom; the plane taken over by the terrorists had crashed into the building about fourteen floors above him. Michael recalls that he felt the tower tilt and embraced his desk in fear that the building would fall to the ground.
People in the office were running around frantically, watching debris fall outside the window. Michael could not see this, however, and had no idea of what was happening.
Meanwhile, Roselle remained asleep as alarm quickly filled the room. When Michael stood, Roselle slowly sat up and yawned, not once submitting to the panicked state that surrounded her. “That was the best thing that she could have done,” Michael said in response to Roselle’s serenity. “Because she was so calm and relaxed, I was able to stay calm as well.”
Michael then packed up his things and walked with Roselle to the lobby, which had become a place of complete chaos. When he came to the stairwell, he stood there, trying to decide whether to travel down the stairs and evacuate, or wait for help. Michael finally commanded Roselle to go “forward,” and they began to make their way down the 1,463 steps.
A few floors down, Michael and Roselle encountered a burn victim, her appearance startling a woman nearby who began to cry and scream, “We’re not going to make it out!”
Roselle then approached the woman and nudged up against her, providing the woman with comfort and a sense of security. “It was like the friendship between Michael and Roselle transmitted out to this woman…and she was going to be able to continue,” Flory said.
On the 30th floor, they came across the firefighters, who were on their way up the stairs to extinguish the fires in the upper part of the tower. The fire chief immediately offered to send some men to assist Michael, but he refused and insisted that they continue on their way. As the firefighters walked by, Roselle allowed each one to pet her, and in doing so, seemed to instill a new strength in them.
At 9:45, Michael and Roselle finally escaped the World Trade Center. As they were trying to gather themselves and catch their breath, a firefighter ran up to Michael screaming, “Get out of here!”
Michael instantly picked up Roselle and ran for his life. Behind him, he could hear debris falling from the the sky and the tower starting to collapse. In some kind of miracle, Roselle led Michael to a subway station.
A few hours later, Michael and Roselle eventually made it back to their house, exhausted from having experienced so many traumatic events in a single day. Roselle, however, acted as though nothing had ever happened, and was able to “shake off the dust of that day and move on.”
Flory concluded her story of “Thunder Dog” with the reminder of the significance of the guide dog command “forward.”
“Forward, always forward.”