Written By: Matthew Sprosty
On December 12, 1996, a Labrador retriever named Salty was born. By early 1998, Salty was going through five months of vigorous training at the Guiding Eyes for the Blind, seeing eye dog training center, in Yorktown Heights, New York. His destiny was to be a New York City see- ing eye dog, which meant that he needed to get used to the subway system, crowded side- walks, and traffic in the Bronx.
On March 12 of that same year, across the country in San Rafael, California, another Labrador retriever named Roselle was born at the Guide Dogs for the Blind. While Salty was meeting her new owner, Omar Rivera, a man who had gone blind a dozen or so years earlier from glaucoma, Roselle was going through her training, and in 1999, was united with her owner, a blind- since-birth sales manager of a Fortune 500 company, Michael Hingson. Mr. Hingson’s company, Quantam, was on the 78th floor of Tower 1 in the World Trade Center.
Salty’s owner, Omar, worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and was a computer technician on the 71st floor.
At 8:46am on September 11th, 2001, American Airlines 11 crashed into Tower 1 between the 93 and 99 floors. Twenty floors below, the sound of the crash was unimaginable, rocking the building to the point Omar’s computer crashed to the floor. Salty, who was sleeping under his desk, sprang into action, running up and down hallways to try and determine what was going on. He returned to his owner, sitting anxiously, trying to communicate that the situation was serious, and that they needed to act fast.
Seven floors up, Hingson felt the building lean twenty feet and right itself, but around him colleagues had already resolved themselves to death, tearfully saying goodbye to each other, and crying out about all the burning debris and paper floating down past their windows. One colleague stood calmly by Hingson’s side, Roselle.
Salty and Roselle never met on September 11th; they simply acted just as their training instructed them. They proceeded forward, separated by almost ten floors, safely guiding their owners through the mayhem, down the steps, away from the burning gasoline fuel, the fire, the smoke, the danger. The stairwells were filled with people, careening down the steps between floors, (Hingson began to count the steps, nineteen between each floor, separated into two flights.) Constantly the dogs and owners had to make way, pressing themselves against the walls as the badly burned and injured were being rushed to safety first. The crowd also moved for the fireman making their way up, never to come back down. The dogs stopped to greet their fellow heroes as they passed by. Not only did the canines help the owners, but when several people began to have such strong panic attacks in the claustrophobic stairwells (that they were becoming obstacles for the rest of the crowd) the simple act of petting one of the dogs was enough to soothe them, focus them, and keep them moving along.
The stairwells were so filled with people, Rivera unclipped Salty, letting the dog go, thinking the Lab could save itself. Swallowed up by the crowd, the two were only separated for moments. Omar then felt the dog return to his side, refusing to abandon his post, and ensuring Rivera’s safety.
After an hour of stair travel, over 1,400 stairs, Roselle and Salty had gotten their owners down to the ground level. But, that was only one obstacle as after a few minutes they heard a policeman yell, “She’s coming down!” The earth began to shake, the streets felt like a trampoline, and the dog’s sprinted, yanking at the harness around their bodies, guiding their men like sled dogs in the arctic, through the crowd of screaming pedestrians, and then through the large cloud of building, dust, sand, and smoke.
Amazingly, the dogs helped Hingson and Rivera find safe areas where they waited for the dust to settle.
Salty and Roselle were awarded a joint Dickin Medal (an award for animals who show a devotion to man and duty and displaying gallantry in the face of military danger) by the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals on March 5, 2002. It was only the second time a joint medal had been awarded. Maria Dicken, for whom the Medal was named, first thought it up after observing the bravery of animals during World War II. Salty and Roselle also shared the award with Appollo, a German Shepherd who helped with the search and rescue efforts in the aftermath of the attacks.
Today, as we remember the attacks eighteen years ago, Odd Dog salutes these Amazing Dogs; these heroes.