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Remembering September 11, 2001: A Tale of Two Men and Their Guide Dogs

by B.E. Lewis, RDPFS Intern:

As we prepare to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the plane crash in Pennsylvania, one of the memories that stands out is the tale of two individuals with blindness who navigated to safety with their guide dogs. On that clear morning, September, 11, 2001, Omar Rivera was working at the headquarters of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. A senior systems designer, he reached his office in Tower One of the World Trade Center after traveling by subway from the Bronx with his guide dog, Salty. The yellow Labrador was sitting beside Rivera’s desk. At the same time, seven levels above, on the 78th floor, Roselle, another guide dog, was with her owner, Michael Hingson, a computer salesman. Although unknown to the other, both mens’ lives would be forever changed after two planes crashed into the north and south towers of the World Trade Center. When Rivera and Salty heard a loud boom and the building began to sway, Rivera grabbed Salty’s lead, and the guide dog navigated him down the crowded stairwell. About halfway down, a co-worker, trying to help, tried to take Salty’s leash but the dog refused to leave Rivera, instead guiding him to safety. From his location, Hinson called his wife and then made sure his staff evacuated. He later described his 78-floor descent with Roselle: “While everyone ran in panic, Roselle remained totally focused on her job, while debris fell around us, and even hit us, Roselle stayed calm.” Roselle led Hingson through smoke, debris, and fleeing workers, until they reached a subway entrance, where they helped another woman who had been blinded by falling debris. In 2002, Salty and Roselle were awarded The Dickin Medal, a British honor marking the service of animals. That same year Rivera and Salty received a ‘Partners in Courage’ award from the Guiding Eyes for the Blind, the guide dog school where Salty trained and a Reader’s Digest Partners for Sight Foundation partner organization. Roselle was posthumously named American Hero Dog of the Year in 2011 by the American Humane Society. Read more about their experiences in the Wikipedia piece on Salty and Roselle, the covetrus great pet care webpage about Honoring the Hero Guide Dogs of September 11th, and SouthCoast Today article on Partners in courage.