Though it’s impossible to get past the central truth of September 11th, 2001 – that nearly 3,000 people were killed as they went about what felt like another normal, albeit extraordinarily beautiful, fall day – we have all read and clung to the incredible stories of survival of that day in an effort to at least try. We’ve read about the people who got out, who reunited with their loved ones, after all; we’ve heard stories of first responders working tirelessly for days; we’ve heard about the nearly 300 search and rescue dogs who worked just as tirelessly by their side. Of course, there are never enough stories of survival when thousands still died. But some stories are so remarkable they bring life back into focus again. The story of a yellow lab named Roselle is such a story. Somehow I only just learned of it, eleven years later.
She was a guide dog for Michael Hingson, a blind man who worked on the 78th floor of Tower One. And that’s where they were when American Airlines Flight 11 struck between the 93rd and 99th floors. Roselle calmly led Michael (and others) down 78 flights of stairs and out onto the street. They were two blocks away when the tower collapsed. Despite the dense air and falling debris, they found their way together into a subway station where they were safe.
Michael emphasized that working with a guide dog is a team effort. Many people mistakenly think that it’s the dog doing all the work when, in fact, it’s his job to tell Roselle where he wants to go and her job to get him there. Roselle was Michael’s fifth guide dog, and though all of them had expertly guided him through many an actual normal day, it was Roselle who saved his life.
She died at the age of thirteen in the early summer of 2011. Here she is with her grateful person.
There are many different kinds of love. There is love between humans, love between animals, love between humans and animals. And then there is the love between a woman and her dog. It’s a place where innocence and trust collide, joy and sorrow meet, life and death breathe. This is the love that is hardest to grieve, hardest to let go, hardest to say goodbye to. Such was the love I had for my Freckles. This is her story.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009. Ordinary in every way, at least the ways that matter. But it was the last day of life for Freckles, my poodle, and it was something I did not know. At least I think I didn’t; I don’t know. Denial can be so strong when one is faced with loss. It’s a funny thing – it promises today will be no different than yesterday. And because you love, you listen.
Freckles appetite had waned. She’d even been turning her nose up at the canned food I’d give her as a special treat, something she used to love so much. I made her grilled chicken with rice and broth. She’d eat the chicken and leave the rest, sniffing at it, then walking away. I made her pancakes, a favorite. They sat in her dish untouched. She wasn’t keeping much down. And she slept and slept, not particularly unusual for a dog of 15. Most days she just wanted to snuggle and sleep. And I had convinced myself that her loss of appetite had more to do with less physical activity than an actual medical problem. She still enjoyed short walks and was occasionally able to jump up on the sofa despite her arthritic joints. So that morning, before I left for a few hours, I gingerly lifted her up on my king-size bed, high off the ground and completely inaccessible to her, her favorite place to sleep. I wrapped her up in her favorite brown blanket, a soft mix of fleece and fuzz, arranged her stuffed animals, and kissed her goodbye. She fell asleep quickly. I left the house, Freckles safe in bed. I would be home soon, and all would be well. Continue reading