Guide Dog Terrified by Thunder Led Blind Man to Safety on 9/11

guide dog led blind man 9/11

A 3-year-old guide dog named Roselle was terrified by thunder.

“When we moved to New Jersey, she was our early warning system for storms,” her dog dad, Michael Hingson, told the Los Angeles Daily News in 2015. “She would get afraid and just start shaking.”

The Labrador Retriever always accompanied Hingson, who is blind, to his computer sales job in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. She was by his side when a hijacked plane struck the tower 20 years ago today.

“We heard a muffled explosion — the building sort of shuddered,” Hingson said during an appearance on FOX Business’s “Cavuto Coast to Coast” this week. “No one had any idea what was going on, because the airplane hit 18 floors above us on the other side of the building. But clearly, we needed to evacuate.”

Although the attack was far more frightening than the loudest thunderstorm, Roselle immediately went to work, helping guide Hingson down 78 flights of stairs.

“Roselle wasn’t giving me any indication she was nervous,” Hingson told KSBY this week. “We key off each other, we feed off each other, and the very fact she wasn’t nervous at all told me that we had time to try and evacuate in an orderly way.”

“I was the pilot and she was the navigator,” Hingson told the Daily News. After all, “When Roselle was working, she’d plow through a thunderstorm without a second thought,” he said.

David Frank was with Hingson at the time of the attack. He joined Hingson and Roselle for the 45-minute descent down the stairwell.

“She had difficult moments, but she never left his side,” Frank told the Daily News. “She was getting cotton-mouth — frothing white foam — and she managed to get some water that had puddled along the way.”

Frank said he will never forget Roselle’s determined expression — or all the doomed hero firefighters who passed them climbing up the stairs.

Hingson and Roselle inspired other survivors as they made their treacherous way down the stairwell. They told him, “We saw you going down the stairs and talking to Roselle, and clearly you guys didn’t have any problem with what was going on, so we followed you down the stairs,” Hingson told KSBY.

After Hingson and Roselle finally made it outside and were running away from the tower, the South Tower collapsed.

Hingson described it as like a freight train and a waterfall. “You could hear metal flattening like a freight train, glass tinkling and breaking, and this white noise of a waterfall pancaking straight down,” he told KSBY. “With every breath I took, I could feel dirt and junk and debris going down my throat and into my lungs and settling.”

He still managed to yell commands to Roselle, who continued to help him navigate through the horrorscape.

Hingson later wrote a best-selling book about the experience, appropriately titled, “Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust.” [*affiliate link]

‘We were a perfect match’

Roselle had been raised and trained by Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, Calif. Hingson was introduced to her in 1999.

“It was obvious from the very beginning that we were a perfect match,” he wrote in his blog. “Roselle was my fifth guide dog. I could tell that she would be an excellent guide from our very first walk together. What took me a few days to discover was that Roselle was also quite a character; I constantly referred to her as a pixie.”

Roselle liked to steal Hingson’s socks and then hide them somewhere, “only to bring them out later just to taunt me,” he wrote. “Her tail wagged through the whole experience. In fact, her tail hardly stop wagging during the almost 12 years I knew her.”

Roselle guide dog saved blind man 9/11

For 10 years after 9/11, Roselle stayed by Hingson’s side. In 2004 the hero dog was diagnosed with immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, a disease that causes a dog’s immune system to attack and destroy blood platelets. Hingson told the Daily News he believes the chemicals, debris and smoke of Sept. 11 probably triggered the disease.

Three years later, Roselle retired. In June 2011, her condition worsened, and Hingson had to make the difficult decision to end her suffering.

“I remember I told her we loved her and she was a great dog. One in a million,” he told the Daily News. He said that after 9/11, it was the most difficult day in his life.

Hingson, who regularly made speaking engagements in the years after 9/11, is not as busy these days, but he hopes that will change. He and his wife now live in Victorville, Calif., with his current guide dogs, Fantasia and Africa. He keeps Roselle’s ashes in an engraved box.

His dream is to get a construction loan to build a handicapped-accessible house with a big yard for Fantasia and Africa, and a final resting place for Roselle.

“She worked through the most trying time in our nation’s history, and she was right there, unflinching, for all of it,” Hingson wrote on his blog. “Her spirit never diminished and, in fact, grew stronger through the years after 9/11, which helps me be a better person today.”

In memory of the hero dog, Hingson has created Roselle’s Dream Foundation. The purpose of the nonprofit is to “assist blind persons to live the life they want and to dream as big as they can” by educating people about blindness and helping blind children and adults obtain technologies to help them learn and work.

You can make a donation in Roselle’s memory on the Roselle’s Dream Foundation website.

Photos via Facebook

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Laura Goldman

I am a freelance writer and lifelong dog lover. For five years, I was a staff writer for i Love Dogs. When that site shut down, I started this blog...because I STILL Love Dogs!