My Chance Encounter with 9/11 Survivor Michael Hingson and his Guide Dog
Last September, 2011, I came across an article about Roselle, which was Michael Hingson’s guide dog at the time he was on floor 78 in Tower One of the World Trade Center when tragedy struck on that fateful day of 9/11/2001, and posted the following: “Roselle, the guide dog who saved her blind master in Tower One on 9/11“. Roselle had passed just a few short months prior to my posting of that article last September. Naturally, being the dog-lover that I am, his experience and the incredible bravery and duty Roselle gave was, and still is, very heart-warming and touching to me – which is why I posted about Roselle.
This past week, I had traveled to Indianapolis on business. While at the airport awaiting my flight to return home, a blind gentleman and his guide dog – a beautiful blond Labrador Retriever – sat opposite of me in our boarding gate seating area. Naturally, I asked the stranger what the dog’s name was and he responded his name was Freddie (or Freddy, not sure of the spelling). At least that is what I thought he said. I have since found out that the dog’s name is “Africa.” Of course, being the photography lover that I am, out pops my camera to take a few photos of Freddie. By this time, however, he had turned his head so that he was facing his human partner’s feet so I was unable to get a proper face shot.
As many of you know, dogs are a large part of my life. If you do not know this, well, you do now. Having helped with founding a rescue program called Heeling Hearts which takes dogs from a local shelter and places them in the care of women in our state women’s prison, there’s very little I have not seen when it comes to canines. Yet, I find each and every one of them unique and fascinating, and I can sit for hours and watch them – especially how they interact with their human partners as well as other dogs and strangers alike.
It was very apparent that Africa completely loved and was entirely devoted to his human partner. Soon Africa placed his head between his best friend’s ankles to rest as this also allowed him to know exactly what his human partner was doing so that he could close his eyes and relax – perhaps lightly doze. Africa lifted his head only once when the gentleman pulled out his sandwich hoping for a nibble. I found out later that Africa did not receive people-food – which I highly recommend myself due to horrid past experiences with dogs that I did feed table scraps to. Plus, the man later quipped, “Africa doesn’t share his food with me, so why should I share mine with him?” He has a point there….
Also being a people-watcher type of personality, airports most definitely provide me with a plethora of options. I observed this blind man across from me pull out his cell phone then put on a full head set, and watched as he scrolled through his list of contacts. I was curious with the technology especially since I’m a techno-geek, and I have not yet had the opportunity to see how special equipment for the blind and/or deaf work. How he knew where he was in his contact list I am unsure, but my guess is that this phone talks to him. Although I enjoy people-watching, I do believe in privacy, and was raised – and still believe – that staring is rude so I diverted my gaze to people milling around, walking down the hall, the TV with the news on, and other mundane airport activities . When someone is only a few feet away talking on the phone, audio privacy is rather impossible. I turned my thoughts to other matters and purposely tried not to overhear his conversation, but he did catch my attention when he mentioned he had given a speech at the Delta Gamma convention in Indianapolis. Although the Delta Gamma convention is NOT what I attended, I was aware they were at the same hotel I stayed at simply due to elevator chit-chat – and the very obvious signs around the lobby and convention area.
After his phone call, the lady sitting on the man’s left side started talking to him. Shortly, the stranger pulled out a flyer and handed it to her. By now, I was becoming a bit restless as the flight was late, so my mind started wandering. Soon, the lady caught my attention to hand me the flyer she had been given, and I started to read the first paragraph. Immediately I knew exactly who this person was, and I was overjoyed! Here sitting across from me was the very same man that I had posted last September here on Motley News about his courageous dog, Roselle. Not only was his dog a heroine, but I could never in my wildest imagination even come close to perceiving what this ordeal was like for Michael – as now I realized I was sitting across from Michael Hingson and his newest guide dog Africa who replaced Roselle after her passing one year ago. The commotion, the fear, the panic, and having to move as quickly as possible down seventy-eight flights of stairs with a dog acting as your eyes. Utterly amazing!
By now did not have much time to talk as I would have so loved to have heard him describe his experience, but was unsure if he wanted to talk about it. Although he speaks all over the country about the bond between man and dog and how his life had changed since surviving that horrible day, I did not know how he felt about describing his experience. I decided to ask one question in hopes that he would answer and continue on, and he kindly answered my question but stopped at that. I simply asked what was a rather stupid question, one that I knew the answer, but it was all I could think of at that moment – I asked Michael if he and everyone could feel the impact. Yes, I know… “duhhh, Michelle.” His answer was a very firm “yes, everyone could.” He spoke no more about it, so I dropped it.
Shortly thereafter, an airline employee came to escort him on the plane before the other passengers. Like a wisp of fresh air floating into my presence, then carried away with the breeze, that was my chance encounter with a very rare, unique, and incredible person who brings a lot of inspiration to thousands of peoples lives every day.
NOTE TO MICHAEL: You mentioned that you are notified whenever your name appears in something new on the internet, so if by chance you do read this, please correct me if I have made any errors. Thanks! And it was an honor and privilege to meet you and your blond best friend.
Here are both sides of the flyer with more information about Michael Hingson. His website is www.michaelhingson.com.