There were many heroes who surfaced twelve years ago on September 11, helping people in need as the Twin Towers crumbled around them. Two you probably haven’t heard of were Salty and Roselle, guide dogs who despite the chaos, calmly led their blind owners to safety after the terrorist attacks.
Salty, a yellow lab, was born in 1996 and trained as a guide dog two years later by Caroline McCabe-Sandler of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a seeing-eye-dog training facility. According to McCabe-Sandler, “Salty liked the fast pace of the city. He was definitely a city dog.” On their walks every day, Salty learned to navigate around obstacles and stop at curbs. Subways, the crowded sidewalks of Manhattan, escalators, and revolving doors were no problem for the dog.
After five months of rigorous training, Salty met owner Omar Rivera in 1999, and what a stroke of luck it was for Rivera. After going blind 14 years before due to glaucoma, the 43-year-old continued to work for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey as a senior systems designer. His office was in the World Trade Center, up on the 71st floor of Tower 1.
On that fateful September day, Salty was sitting calmly beside Rivera’s desk when the pair heard a great booming noise and felt the building begin to sway. Rivera smelled smoke and his computer crashed to the ground. He snatched up Salty’s lead and his dog led him to the crowded stairwell. Despite the chaos, Salty navigated Rivera around people and debris as though it was just another normal day on the job.
At one point, a co-worker tried to take Salty’s leash, thinking he was being helpful. But Salty refused to leave his owner’s side and didn’t need any help guiding his master. After an hour and fifteen minutes, the dog successfully guided Rivera down from the 71st floor and into the lobby. From there, they picked their way toward the doors and ran. They were just two or three blocks away when they heard the tower collapse—they had gotten out just in time.
Like Salty, Roselle was a yellow lab born in 1998. She was paired with Michael Hingson in 1999 at Guide Dogs for the Blind. Hingson had been blind from birth, but he never let that stop him from accomplishing his dreams. He had earned his master’s degree in physics from the University of California and secured a job as computer sales manager in New York. His office was on the 78th floor of Tower 1.
Roselle was asleep under the desk when the plane struck the building, just eighteen floors above. She calmly led Hingson, along with other people in the office, to the darkened stairwell and down 1,463 steps, successfully leading them out of the swaying building and on to the street. The descent had taken just over an hour, and moments after they left the building, Tower 2 collapsed, sending debris flying everywhere, some of which struck Hingson and Roselle, though it didn’t faze the dog who continued to calmly perform her job of guiding her master through the chaos.
Hingson remembered the day, writing,
She saved my life. 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 guided Hingson through the terror-filled streets and into a subway station, where they helped a woman who had been blinded by debris get to safety. For Roselle, it was just another day in the life of a guide dog. When the pair returned home safely, she began playing with her friend Linnie—Hingson’s retired guide dog—as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Salty and Roselle were awarded the Dickin Medal on March 5, 2002 for “For remaining loyally at the side of their blind owners, courageously leading them down more than 70 floors of the World Trade Center and to a place of safety following the terrorist attack on New York on 11 September 2001.”
Salty passed away in 2008 at the age of 11. Roselle followed in 2011 at the age of 13 after developing a stomach ulcer.
The memory of Salty and Roselle lives on. Hingson wrote a book about Roselle called Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero which was published shortly after Roselle’s death. Hingson formed Roselle’s Dream Foundation, which supports blind children and adults and gives them tools to learn and engage more fully with the world.
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- Salty and Roselle were the first dogs to receive a joint Dickin Medal since Punch and Judy. Punch and Judy were two boxers who saved the lives of two British officers in Israel from a terrorist who was sneaking up on them in 1946. 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 September 11 attacks.
- Other recipients of the Dickin Medal include 32 pigeons, 26 other dogs, three horses, and one cat. The pigeons were mostly praised for delivering messages in difficult conditions, while the cat successfully “disposed of many rats” on board a ship that was under attack.
- The Dickin Medal was named for Maria Dickin, who first thought it up after observing the bravery of animals during World War II. It is awarded to animals who show a devotion to man and duty and display gallantry while serving during military conflict.
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