Paying Our Respects to 9/11’s Doggie Heroes
by Sheila Jamison
The stories of the dogs who helped during and after the 9/11 attacks is bittersweet. Here’s some of the sweet part.
Salty was a guide dog for Omar Rivera. Rivera lost his sight due to glaucoma, and was working in the Port Authority when the planes hit Tower 1. As Rivera recalls, Salty was sitting beside his desk, as usual. He heard a loud noise and felt the building sway. He smelled smoke. It was time for Rivera and Salty to escape.
Salty did her job of guiding him through the chaos - not missing a beat. After all, that’s what she was trained to do. It took them an hour and fifteen minutes to leave the building from the 71st floor. They were at most three blocks away when it collapsed.
Roselle was Michael Hingson’s guide dog. Hingson, a computer sales manager on the 78th floor of Tower 1, had been blind from birth. They were only 18 floors below the attack.
Roselle led Hingson and his colleagues down a dark scary stairway. It took them an hour…1,463 steps in all. All the while, the building was swaying. Only moments after they left the building, Tower 2 collapsed. Both Hingson and Roselle were struck by the debris, but Roselle didn’t let that stop her.
But their adventure didn’t end there. Roselle and Hinson had to traverse the terror-filled streets to the subway. They met a woman who had been blinded by the debris and helped her get to safety as well.
Hingson remembered the day thusly,
“[Roselle] saved my life. While everyone ran in panic, Roselle remained totally focused on her job. While debris fell around us, and even hit us, Roselle stayed calm.”
On March 5, 2002, Salty and Roselle were honored with the Dickin Medal:
“For remaining loyally at the side of their blind owners, courageously leading them down more than 70 floors of the World Trade Center and to a place of safety following the terrorist attack on New York on 11 September 2001.”
Makes me feel good. How about you? But there’s more. Much more.
Over 300 service dogs were used to sort through steel, concrete and debris in their mostly hopeless search for survivors. This was the most massive call for help these heroic dogs ever attempted. These dogs came not only from the US, but all around the world: Canada, Puerto Rico and Europe all volunteered their furry friends for the rescue efforts.
They were tireless and relentless, searching sometimes as much as 16 hours both day and night for any sign of life. Many had to be treated for burned paws once their jobs were done.
When the dogs detected any scent of a human, they wouldn’t stop digging until they succeeded in uncovering someone, or were called off. When they’re initially being trained, these dogs are rewarded by the “victim” playing with them upon being found…something that rarely happened in the very real tragedy at Ground Zero.
Trainers/partners for these dogs are to be commended also. They need to make sure that the dog doesn’t become overwhelmed by the tragedy. One partner remembers that his dog found two firefighters on his first day. He laid down, curled up, and began to lose hair at an alarming rate. Seeing this, his handlers decided that it was time for his retirement.
They also served a very noble cause in lifting spirits of the tired and heartbroken first responders. These ‘Doggie Angels’ gave comfort to rescue workers, just petting the dogs seemed to relieve a lot of stress. According to one unidentified handler at the time,
"These dogs have been trained to pick up on trauma and go towards it. So they pursue people they perceive as being in a state of trauma ... We've been visiting a lot of firemen, police, and cleanup detail."
What great stories! I began by calling them bittersweet. That bitter part is the last of these ‘first responder’ dogs died on June 6th this year. I felt I owed them recognition and heartfelt thanks for all they did for us.
Remember the Dog Heroes of September 11
The Amazing Salty and Roselle
You will also like Hingson’s book, Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero. Hingson also set up the Roselle’s Dream Foundation to support blind children and adults.