Salty, Roselle, and the Shot Heard Around the World on 9/11

The attacks on the World Trade Center during September 11, 2001 has forever imprinted itself on Americans and the world around us. It's a day that when upon mentioning those two numbers, we are flooded with intense feelings and recollections of what we were doing and how we felt 17 years ago. In the chaos and torrid weeks that followed the incident, we were shown images that elicit emotions of fear, hatred, anger, anxiety, compassion, courage, and duty. Among the stories you might hear on your newsfeed today, I would like to focus on a story of duty, in the form of two guide dogs by the name of Salty & Roselle -- a story that has been covered many times but bears repeating. Moments before evacuations began, there were two guide dogs with their respective owners, who worked at the World Trade Center, named Salty & Roselle.

Left to right: Michael Hingson, Roselle, Omar Rivera, & Salty.

Prepare for your feelings to be accessed.

Salty, a dog who was anything but salty

Salty was the guide dog to Omar Rivera, who up until becoming Rivera's service dog, was a yellow Labrador Retriever trained by Guiding Eyes for the Blind in Yorktown Heights, New York. Rivera worked at the headquarters of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, in Tower 1 of the World Trade Center. The duo arrived at the World Trade Center around 7 a.m. that day due in preparation for a meeting that day. At 8:45 a.m., moments after Rivera printed his documents, chaos ensued as jarring sounds came from 22 floors above him. Salty had been sleeping in Rivera's cubicle, jumped to attention and began to pace back and forth along the hallway near Rivera's cube. “He did it at least five or six times — I think he was trying to search out what was going on — and then he just came back to me and sat down next to me, very anxious,” Rivera recalled. “The thing I remember most was the way he tried to communicate with me to tell me, ‘This is urgent. We need to act on this immediately.’”

As Salty's harness was put on him, the duo began their evacuation to the nearest staircase. The stairwell inundated with smoke started to become very hot. Panic ensued, crowds were forming, and a terrifying feeling filled Rivera who began to think of Salty's well-being as he made the difficult choice of letting go of his trusted companion so that Salty could save himself.

“I tried to let him go down first for a few minutes, but he said, ‘No,’” Rivera said. “He refused to leave me. He came back to me. He said, ‘We are together. As long as we are in here, we are together.’”

A distant relative of Salty, Wrangler (above) is from Guiding Eyes

Salty refused to leave Rivera's side during the attacks, and with the help of Rivera's supervisor, Donna Enright, was able to lead Rivera from the 71st floor to safety. Rivera went onto remark that Salty "looked like a lion" and "seemed like an arrow", which referred to Salty's heightened ability to make a path in crowded areas of New York. And that's what he did, as the pair emerged from Tower 1. Moments after exiting, Rivera heard the tower collapse.

Salty, alongside Roselle, was awarded a joint Dickin Medal by the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, on March 5, 2002, “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.” This was the second time a joint medal had been awarded. Salty was retired by Rivera during 2007, as the dog got to live out his remaining years by sleeping in and his obsession of tennis balls. Salty passed away in 2008, at the tender age of 13.

“That guy Salty will always have a special place in my heart,” said Rivera. “To see my family grow, to see my daughters grow, to continue to be together with my family — it’s such a gift. Life is a gift.”

A flower by the name of Roselle

Roselle was the guide dog to Michael Hingson, and up until her service for Hingson, she was born a yellow Labrador Retriever at the Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California, and trained at this facility as a guide dog. Roselle was Hingson's fifth service dog and they had first met on November 22, 1999.

Similar to Salty on that fateful day, Roselle was napping under Hingson's desk, on the 78th floor of Tower 1. Awakened by the chaos of fifteen floors above, Roselle calmy led Hingson to Stairwell B, as she remained focused among the smoke and chaos around her. Roselle found herself, not only leading her owner, but 30 other people down the stairwell. Remaining cool, she even greeted the firemen who rushed upstairs against all odds. I could only image that it was an odd normalcy that took hold of everybody's attention amidst the calamity that surrounded them.

“The two of us had a very interdependent relationship,” Hingson recalls. “She kept me as calm as I kept her. I just kept encouraging her.” The climb down Stairwell B took just over an hour and as they exited Tower 1, the sounds of Tower 2 collapsing engulfed everybody and the debris came immediately afterwards. Hingson said, "While everyone ran in panic, Roselle remained totally focused on her job, while debris fell around us, and even hit us, Roselle stayed calm."

“If I hadn’t had Roselle and had to depend on a cane, I would have been much more vulnerable in the chaos and panic,” Hingson said. “But she was guiding me and I was pushing her. It was real teamwork.” Once the area was cleared, Roselle remained laser-focused on her duty to Hingson, as she led him to the nearest subway station, where her kindness was extended helping a woman who had been blinded by falling debris. Just as quick as everything had happened, Roselle returned to her normal lifestyle of playing with her retired guide dog predecessor, Linnie. “I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for Roselle,” says Roselle’s owner Michael Hingson. The events that day had inspired Hingson to change his career as a computer salesman to working for the Guide Dogs for the Blind as Public Affairs Director.

Roselle, alongside Salty, was awarded a joint Dickin Medal by the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals, on March 5, 2002, “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.” This was the second time a joint medal had been awarded.

However, the story comes to a sad point, as Roselle was diagnosed with immune-mediated thrombocytopenia, in 2004. Sometimes that's how life is though, where bad things repeatedly happen to the good ones. Medications were thought to have controlled Roselle's condition, but three years later, it showed that it the medication was slowly damaging her kidneys. In March 2007, Roselle was officially retired from guiding and she continued to live with Hingson. For four more years, Roselle had gained time during her retirement, yet Hingson noticed that something was wrong. On June 24, 2011, Hingson took Roselle to his local veterinarian and she was diagnosed with a stomach ulcer. Roselle passed away two days later, on June 26 at 8:52 p.m.

Hingson was not ready to let the good deeds of Roselle stop that day, as he eventually wrote a book recalling their 9/11 experience, which was entitled, Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero (2012) and another book entitled, Running with Roselle (2013). Hingson also went on to set up Roselle's Dream Foundation, which is a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation to raise money helping vision-impaired people engage more fully in everyday life. Roselle was posthumously named "American Hero Dog of the Year" in 2011 by the American Humane Society.

“She was an amazing dog who taught me a lot about patience and unconditional love,” says Hingson. “And when I remember how she behaved on that morning in 2001, I think the most powerful thing she taught me was that working together is the most powerful thing we can do.”

Images from Today, the American Kennel Club, Express, & Wikipedia.

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