September is National Guide Dog Month, a time to celebrate and raise awareness of the work of seeing-eye dogs and other service dogs.
Seeing-eye dogs may have existed as far back as the first century A.D., according to the Guide Dogs for the Blind Federation. A mural depicting a dog leading a man was discovered in the ruins of the ancient Roman town of Heculaneum, which was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D.
Twenty centuries later, Guiding Eyes for the Blind estimates that there are currently about 10,000 guide dogs working in the United States.
In honor of National Guide Dog Month, here are five seeing-eye dogs that went above and beyond the line of duty by heroically saving the lives of their blind human companions.
Salty and Roselle
When the North Tower of the World Trade Center was struck by the hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 on 9/11, two seeing-eye dogs led their blind owners safely out of the building.
Michael Hingson was working on the 78th floor when the plane struck 14 stories above him. Although his 3-year-old seeing-eye dog, Roselle, was terrified of loud noises, the yellow Lab immediately sprang into action, leading Hingson to the stairwell and down 78 flights of stairs.
“Roselle wasn’t giving me any indication she was nervous,” Hingson told KSBY the week before the 20th anniversary of 9/11. “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.”
A book Hingson wrote about the experience, “Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust” [*affiliate link], was a bestseller. Roselle, who retired in 2007, died in 2011 of immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, a disease Hingson believes was triggered by the chemicals, debris and smoke she inhaled on 9/11.
Omar Rivera was also working in the North Tower when the plane struck. His seeing-eye dog, Salty, began running back and forth in the hallway outside Rivera’s cubicle on the 71st floor.
“I think he was trying to search out what was going on — and then he just came back to me and sat down next to me, very anxious,” Rivera told TODAY.com in 2015. “The thing I remember most about him that day was the way he tried to communicate with me to tell me, ‘This is urgent. We need to act on this immediately.’”
As they slowly descended the increasingly crowded stairwell, Rivera let go of Salty’s harness so the dog could escape, but the yellow Lab refused to leave his side. After an hour and 15 minutes, they finally made it to the ground floor. They were only a few blocks away when the tower collapsed.
Salty retired in 2007. He “played obsessively with tennis balls and exuded relentless joy” until he died at the age of 13 the following year, TODAY.com reports.
Maria Colon, who is blind, awoke to the smell of smoke in her Philadelphia house in August 2015.
“I said, ‘Oh my God… I can’t breathe,’” she told NBC 10.
She shouted, “Danger!” to her seeing-eye dog, Yolanda.
The golden retriever called 911.
“I hear the phone — tke, tke, tke. And she’s growling. And I said, ‘Oh my lord, she called the police,’” Colon said.
This was actually the second time Yolanda used the specially equipped phone to summon emergency services. She did the same thing last year when Colon fell and lost consciousness.
Firefighters quickly arrived and put out the blaze. Both Colon and Yolanda were treated for smoke inhalation.
“I’m her Mommy, and she loves me too much,” Colon told NBC 10.
As Audrey Stone crossed a Brewster, N.Y., street with her seeing-eye dog, Figo, on a morning in June 2015, the driver of a mini-bus didn’t see them.
But Figo sure saw the mini-bus. He leaped in front of Stone, taking the brunt of the hit.
“The dog did something really heroic,” John Del Gardo, Brewster’s police chief, told ABC News. “He sort of lunged at the bus. It injured his leg and paw, and the woman received multiple injuries. When EMS came, he didn’t want to leave her side.”
Both Stone and Figo were hospitalized for their injuries, but are expected to fully recover. A generous, anonymous benefactor covered the cost of Figo’s veterinary care.
Figo “deserves the purple heart,” Stone told the Journal News.
Cecil Williams, who is blind, was walking too close to the edge of a Harlem subway platform in December 2013.
Witnesses told CBS New York that Williams’ seeing-eye dog, a 10-year-old black Lab named Orlando, kept barking and trying to lead him farther away.
Williams, however, ended up falling onto the subway tracks. Orlando jumped down and sat beside him, licking his face.
When a train approached, witnesses screamed for it to stop, but it was too late. Several cars ran over Williams and Orlando. Amazingly, both of them survived.
Since Orlando was about to retire, Williams was afraid he’d have to give up his hero for a new seeing-eye dog, because he couldn’t afford to care for two dogs. But thanks to donations, Orlando was able to live out his retirement with the man whose life he helped save.
“The spirit of giving, of Christmas, and all of that — it exists here,” a tearful Williams told CBS News.
Photo: Hurricane Omega