Author, Thunder Dog (2011)
World Trade Center Survivor
National Ambassador for the Braille Literacy Campaign
Former National Public Affairs Director for Guide Dogs for the Blind
MA, University of California at Irvine
Michael Hingson: Thunder Dog
The 700 Club
BLIND AT BIRTH
At six months old, George and Sarah Hingson had a healthy and normal baby boy in every way except one. He was permanently and totally blind. Michael was born in 1950, 59 days early. The standard medical procedure was to put a premature baby in a sealed incubator and pump in pure oxygen until the baby’s lungs matured. The practice resulted in epidemic blindness in preterm babies. Michael’s parents ignored the doctor’s advice and decided not to send their child to a home for the blind.
They raised him at home with his brother and treated him no differently than his sibling. He was encouraged, nurtured, and loved. George taught Michael to love God and in the fourth grade he gave Michael a Braille Bible, King James Version. Michael loved to explore the Bible and have discussions with his dad. Faith to him meant a friendship with God.
Michael says he never felt handicapped or disabled. He knew he was different, but he decided not to let it stop him. He explored the neighborhood like any other child on his feet, on his bicycle, and with a guide dog. In kindergarten he was exposed to Braille, but the family moved and his new school in California did not have a Braille teacher. The summer between third and fourth grade Michael was reintroduced to Braille and once again fell in love with learning.
At the age of fourteen, Michael received his first guide dog, Squire from Guide Dogs for the Blind. Squire guided Michael safely through high school and college. Then he was paired with Holland who would take him through his graduate years at Irvine and his first years of employment. Klondike guided Michael through much of his working life and then came Linnie whose career ended abruptly when she contracted Lyme disease. In November 1999, Roselle began to guide for Michael. She was twenty one months old. Within two days of her arrival, Roselle went to work with Michael at the WTC. Together they explored the building’s hallways, lobbies, and the underground shopping center. He did not want Roselle to anticipate his commands – something that can easily happen within a confined space such as the WTC.
DAY OF THUNDER
On the morning of September 11, 2001, the day started like any other day at the office. Michael and Roselle got off the elevator at the seventy-eighth floor in the North Tower. Michael worked as the regional sales manager and head of operations in New York for a Fortune 500 company. He was busy making preparations for a morning presentation when he heard a tremendous Boom! The time was 8:46 a.m. Michael recalls, “The building shudders and groans. In slow motion, the tower leans over something like twenty feet.” Michael says a silent prayer,” God, don’t let this building tip over,” then he grabs Roselle’s leash. With the debris falling and the flames leaping out of the floors above them, Roselle walks next to Michael, as calm as ever. If she had sensed danger, she would have acted differently. But she did not. I chose to trust Roselle’s judgment, and so I did not panic.
After helping others in the office evacuate using the stairwell, Michael called his wife, Karen. He told her he would call again as soon as possible, but he had to go. The only way out was 1,463 steps below. As he and Roselle traveled down the stairs a stench began to fill the air. He realized there had to of been an explosion and the smell must be from jet fuel. As they go down the stairs, they encounter firemen on the 30th floor who are on their way up. They insisted that Michael go ahead of the others to safety, but Michael reassured them he is okay. Exhausted, an hour later; Michael, Roselle and David finally reach the first floor and run through the gushing sprinklers thankful to be alive.
They paused for a moment, but a police officer tells them to get out of there…the tower was coming down! The South Tower began to rumble, and Michael heard glass breaking and metal tearing along with terrified screams. “I will never forget that sound as long as I live. It was like a cross between a freight train and a waterfall of breaking glass.” As Roselle and Michael run they are hit in the head and face with small objects. In the chaos, Michael cried out to God. “How could You get us out of the building only to have it fall on us?” God answered, “Don’t worry about what you cannot control. Focus on running with Roselle, and the rest will take care of itself.” Michael immediately felt peace and a kind of protection. Michael, Roselle and David keep moving through the monstrous dust cloud until they reach a safe haven to rest. As they look behind they see a pillar of smoke and realize the North Tower is also gone. Later Michael would discover that many people were praying for his safety that day.
TEAMWORK AND TRUST
Michael’s teamwork with Roselle saved his life and the lives of those with him. His “disability” – blindness – became an asset. “I’m not sure why I lived… I must be here for a reason…I don’t know what exactly will come out of the part we played in September 11. I may never know. But I do know it’s all about planting seeds, seeds of forgiveness, healing, teamwork, and trust,” shares Michael. Roselle and Michael were thrust into the international spotlight, becoming well-known representatives of the strength of the human/animal bond and a living example of the powerful partnership that exists between a blind person and their Guide Dog. In 2002, Michael joined the Guide Dogs for the Blind team as the National Public Affairs director, to share his story throughout the world on behalf of the school. After six and a half years, Michael resigned and formed The Michael Hingson Group as a consultant for corporations & organizations that need assistance with inclusive and diversity training.
“I would not be alive today if it weren’t for Roselle. I cannot say enough about the incredible job she did,” shares Michael. In 2007, Roselle retired at a public ceremony at Guide Dogs for the Blind. GDB also retired her name; no future guide dog will ever be named Roselle. Over the years, Roselle has received numerous awards for her role in 9/11 such as the Heroes of Hartz and the American Kennel Club’s ACE Award for Canine excellence.
Roselle died on Sunday, June 26, 2011. She was thirteen years old. Prior to her death, she was nominated for the American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards. She is among 8 finalists competing for the title of 2011 American Hero Dog the show will be on The Hallmark Channel on October 1, 2011 in Beverly Hills.
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