Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Saying “Goodbye” to a Hero
by Michael Hingson
It is strange for me to be writing this article while I have feelings of both sadness and joy in my heart. Nevertheless, it is something which must be done.
I have the solemn obligation to inform you that my hero Guide Dog, Roselle, who was with me in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, passed away last evening, Sunday, June 26, 2011 at 8:52 PM. I am sad, of course, because I will miss Roselle so very much, more than any of my other Guide Dogs. I write with joy because Roselle is in a better place, no longer feeling pain, leaving me with so many fond memories of her and a life forever changed by our shared experience.
Roselle was born on March 12, 1998 at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California. Right from the start, she was quite a mischievous little puppy. Raised by several puppy-raising families in Santa Barbara, she spent many joy-filled days with Kay and Ted Stern, who introduced her to airplane travel, New York, snow, and even the theater. I must say that I think the culture did rub off on her.
After her time with puppy raisers, Roselle returned to Guide Dogs for the Blind for training. Our first meeting was November 22, 1999. Roselle was my fifth Guide Dog. It was obvious from our very first walk together that we were a perfect match. What took me a few days to discover was that Roselle was also quite a character; I constantly referred to her as a “pixie.” Roselle had a penchant for stealing socks. She didn't chew them up; she just carried them around and then hid them somewhere only to bring them out later just to taunt me. She was always willing to give them up undamaged and ready-to-wear although a little bit damp. Her tail wagged through the whole experience. In fact, her tail hardly stopped wagging during the almost 12 years I knew her (I also discovered that she was a loud snorer. The Stearns told me later that even as a puppy, she could snore with the best of them).
When I brought Roselle home to New Jersey on December 2, 1999, she met my retired guide, Linnie. Linnie and Roselle seemed a bit uncomfortable with each other that night and into the middle of the next day. I decided that this awkwardness had gone on long enough and brought out a rope tug bone. I made each of them take an end and I grabbed the middle of the rope. They started off by teaming up and tugging against me. After about 20 seconds of this with mouths inching up toward my fingers from both sides I release the bone and let them go at it alone. From that moment on they were inseparable until Linnie passed away on July 4, 2002.
I would not be alive today if it weren't for Roselle. On September 11, 2001 Roselle and I were in our office on the 78th floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center when it was struck by American Airlines flight 11, hijacked and under terrorist control. Our escape from that tower moments before its collapse is story that has been told around the world and is still an inspiration to many. This amazing story is the subject of my new book called “Thunder Dog” co-authored with Susy Flory, which will be in bookstores and available on my website soon. All I want to say here is that Roselle did an incredible job and is a true hero. She remained poised and calm through the entire day, giving kisses and love wherever she could, while working valiantly when she needed to do so. Roselle’s service on 9/11 was a testimony not only to the Sterns and the others who raised her, but to her trainer, Todd Jurek, the entire Guide Dogs for the Blind training staff, and all the people who make up that wonderful organization. Most of all, what Roselle did that day and in fact every day she and I were together is nothing less than the most powerful evidence I can provide of the enduring value of trust and teamwork.
In the aftermath of 9/11, in January 2002, Roselle and I began an exciting journey, serving as the National Public Affairs Director for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Roselle and I spent countless hours speaking to the media, officiating at events, even riding on a float in the Rose Parade on New Year's Day. Over the next 6 1/2 years Roselle and I traveled hundreds of thousands of miles throughout the United States and the rest of the world speaking about trust and teamwork, guide dogs, and blindness. Our goal was to help people understand that the real “handicap” of blindness is not a lack of eyesight but a lack of proper education about blindness. Roselle took every trip with poise and confidence whether it was to Kansas or Korea. She was an incredible traveler.
She met many dignitaries and celebrities, including President George W. Bush, Queen Noor, Hilary Rodham Clinton, the Prime Ministers of Ireland, New Zealand and Canada, Senators Chuck Schumer and Barbara Boxer, Larry King, Regis and Kelly, and many others. She received numerous awards and was even honored in the US Congressional Record by Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey.
In 2004, Roselle was diagnosed with immune mediated thrombocytopenia, a condition which caused her body to attack her blood platelets. It was thought that her condition may have been brought on by exposure to the contaminated air at Ground Zero. Through medications, we were able to control the disease and Roselle was able to continue guiding. As usual, she worked like a trooper and never once exhibited pain or discomfort.
On the home front, from the time that Roselle lost her tug companion, Linnie, in 2002, we cared for several foster dogs from GDB until Fantasia came to live with us in 2006. In Fantasia, Roselle found an inseparable friend and made the most of it. She still swiped the occasional pair of socks, but Fantasia was her main interest. Roselle taught Fantasia how to bark every time the doorbell rang and how to beg for treats, which became a regular household ritual for both dogs especially when 8:00 PM rolled around.
In February 2007 during a normal checkup we learned that some of Roselle's kidney values were changing for the worse. It was decided that the medication regimen on which Roselle had been placed as well as the stress of guiding were putting her health at further risk. Roselle retired from guidework in March of 2007. It was a sad day for all of us, but Roselle took it in stride and soon made it very clear that retirement suited her well. After retirement, Roselle loved to take walks most of the time, she loved her meals, her treats, playing Battle of the Bone with Fantasia and later with my current Guide Dog Africa, and of course barking at the ringing of the doorbell. Roselle was the loudest barker of the bunch. I have fond memories of Roselle, Fantasia, and Africa all tugging on the same rope, all battling each other across our living room giving no care to whatever was in their way.
In 2010, Roselle began exhibiting some chronic back pain. While speaking at the annual convention of the American Animal Hospital Association, I introduced Roselle to Doctor Robin Downing, an expert in dog pain management. Robin noticed Roselle's pain and while I gave three consecutive workshops she spent time with Roselle. I think they got to know each other pretty well that day because right after the workshops Doctor Downing, right there on the floor in the front of the conference room, gave Roselle a back adjustment which clearly helped Roselle and made her back feel somewhat better. Upon our return home, we immediately took Roselle to her vet and started her on a treatment of acupuncture, back adjustments, and herbs which altogether mostly eliminated her chronic back pain.
Earlier this year we noticed that Roselle was beginning to have a harder time standing up on her own, although once she was standing she loved to continue her daily walks. She stopped playing tug bone with Fantasia and Africa, but she still enjoyed lying in the sun, eating, kissing everybody in sight, and barking at the doorbell. Her ability to stand on her own grew worse throughout the first half of this year.
Last week she began exhibiting some other signs of distress and pain. On Friday, June 24, 2011, she had to be taken to her vet, who suspected that somehow she had developed a stomach ulcer. Also, it was discovered that her red blood cell count had dropped significantly. Friday evening she was taken to the Pet Emergency and Specialty Center where she was well known by Doctor Harb and the other staff. Yesterday, Sunday, June 26, we visited her in the evening only to see her condition continuing to deteriorate. She was in a lot of pain and discomfort. There was no one cause for her discomfort, but Doctor Bowie of the PESC felt that some of her immune-related conditions had returned in addition to the possible stomach ulcer.
After much consultation and discussion we all came to agreement that the best thing we could do to help Roselle was to assist her in crossing the Rainbow Bridge and go to her friend Linnie. At 8:52 last evening she crossed that bridge and, I am sure, she is now pain-free, enjoying socks and other games, barking at doorbells to her heart’s content.
How can I possibly say goodbye to a dog who is done all Roselle has done and who lived life to the fullest? How can I ever do justice to her life, work, and memory? Roselle has been one of the greatest blessings and gifts I have ever had the joy of receiving. God surely broke the mold with Roselle. I have had seven Guide Dogs including Africa, my seventh, and also I have had the opportunity to see thousands of them at work around the world. Roselle is unique without a doubt. She worked through the most trying time in our nation’s history, and she was right there unflinching for all of it. Her spirit never diminished and, in fact, grew stronger through the years after 9-11, helping me become a better person today.
I thank God for the time my wife Karen and I were allowed to have with this wonderful creature. She touched everyone whom she met in a special way, giving unconditional love wherever she went. She kissed firefighters in the World Trade Center as we descended the stairs, a memory that moves me to this day. She inspired us all and will continue to do so.
Roselle’s passing coincides with the formation of “Roselle's Dream Foundation,” which has been in development for several months. The purpose of the foundation is to educate people about blindness, and to assist blind children and later blind adults to obtain new technologies to empower them to learn, work and engage in life more fully. Shortly the website www.rosellesdream.org will be up and running. I invite people to honor Roselle by making donations in her memory to the Roselle's Dream Foundation to help us in our work.
My goodbye prayer: Roselle, your memory will always be with us and your spirit continues to touch us. I know you're nearby, watching us. Your memory inspires us to be better people and dogs, to be the best we can be. I hope you're feeling better now. You have shown us what real love and service look like, setting the bar high for us to follow. Be at peace and know that we shall try to love each other as much as you loved each of us during your time with us on earth.