Roselle – Hero Guide Dog
Michael Higson was reuinted with Roselle, a female yellow Lab at the start of 2001 when he was 50. She had been trained by Guide Dogs for the Blind. As he got to know her, Michael’s appreciation for Roselle grew. When she was “off duty” she had a pixie sense of humor, and liked to
steal Mike’s socks. But when she was working, she’d throw a
switch and she would be all focused in her work.
They became a team. Michael would direct her and she would
safely guide him. Michael would take her to work every day. She would guide him to his office building, walk him to the elevators. Mike would feel the braile bumps to select the correct floor, and up they’d go. When they got to his desk, she would lay down and wait patiently at his side until he needed her.
Nine months later, on an early weekday morning, Michael
couldn’t see what happened, but from the shaking of the
building that he felt and the explosion that he heard, he knew
something major had happened. Then he smelled a strong gasoline odor.
As an ex-California resident familiar with earthquakes, he
only knew that the rocking office tower “was in terrible trouble”.
Mike talked to David and Frank, the two people in his office
who had already arrived, and told them to “get out of there”
and to take the stairs “because he believed the elevators
surely wouldn’t be working”. He still had no idea what had
He called his wife to tell her that there had been and
explosion in his building and that he would be home as soon as
he could. He grabbed Roselle’s harness to tell her that it was time to
work, but Roselle already sensed this. While Frank described to
Mike how flaming debris was falling outside the windows,
Roselle led Mike “through the disheveled office and,
eventually, to the stairwell.” “The crowds weren’t huge at
first…but as we started making our way down, they got
bigger.” The temperature in the stairwell started climbing
above 90 degrees. He was sweating and Roselle was panting.
The smell of gasoline got stronger when they were a third of the way down. Soon he felt people bumping into him and Roselle, but
they were going the wrong way – they were heading up. “I heard
applause and was told they were firefighters…I clapped a few
on the back, but I was scared for where they were going.”
The temperature in the stairwell kept rising as people opened
the stairwell doors to enter. Mike “wasn’t sure he would be
all-right. The stairs were thick with people clambering down –
not stampeding, but moving quickly.” And he was increasingly concerned about Roselle who was was feeling the heat and panting heavily, her throat also irritated by the gasoline fumes. No air was circulating in the stairwell, All the way down, his co-worker Frank had stayed with Mike and Roselle. It took them 50 minutes to
descend the 1,463 stairs to the lobby. In the Lobby, there was water on the floor from broken pipes. Roselle stopped to drink it to cool herself and get relief for her enflamed throat. It took another 10 minutes to get out of the building and onto the street.
The plan was for Frank was to get his car and drive them away, but that suddenly changed. Mike heard a crumbling roar above and behind him. “It sounded like a metal and concrete waterfall. We
started running for the subway”. Around them were shrieks of
terror but Roselle focused on her task. Mike kept his instructions to her simple – right, left – and a police officer steered them to the subway.
When they emerged,Mike was told that the North Tower of the World Trade Center had collapsed and the top of the South Tower was on fire. “It was unbelievable,” Mike said, “I felt lucky to be out of there. But I wondered about the fire fighters” who had climbed up past him in the South Tower. Twenty minutes later, the South Tower collapsed sending a fast moving, blinding cloud of “ash, glass and debris” towards them. A woman who was near them couldn’t see with this stuff in her eyes, so Roselle and her blind owner helped her get to safety. Everyone and everything was covered with this soot. “If Mike could have seen her, Roselle had become a gray Labrador.
Since no trains were running that day, Michael and Roselle
stayed at a friends’ house in Manhattan. He was able to return
home the next day to his wife and emailed all those people who were
concerned and were waiting to hear from him. Two of these
friends who saw the television reports were Kay and Ted Stern who had met him and his new puppy Roselle back in 1998. Kay and Ted helped train Roselle to be a Guide Dog. Mike also contacted the San Rafael based Guide Dogs for the Blind who supplies Guide Dogs for blind people around the country to let them know that he and Roselle were safe. Their spokes-person said that Roselle was the first puppy the Sterns raised to be a service dog. “The Sterns for their part, said that Mike and Roselle’s story inspired them to continue working with service dog. ‘We’re training our fourth dog now… but Michael’s story sure gives us a lot of validation.”
You can read the full story in Michael Higson’s book Thunder Dog.