911

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.

Michael Hingson and guide dog Freddie. Photo taken with permission.

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.

Click on image to view in full size

Click on image to view in full size

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22 replies »

  1. Very moving story of your chance encounter with an exceptional man who not only survived a horrific experience with the help of his guide dog, but who has also risen above the limitation of being blind, and now inspires others who can see.

    You helped with the founding of Heeling Hearts? Another previously unknown and impressive part of your life experience is revealed… Like before, when these revelations have surfaced, I can’t help but wonder what other experiences you’ve had, and things you’ve done, that are still hidden. You’re like a treasure trove of secrets seldom revealed, but worth the patience to wait for, so I’ll continue to wait for more to be revealed, at whatever time and date you choose, when you’re ready.

    Dogs are great. Thanks for being so involved with helping the dogs, as well as the people the dogs are helping.

      • Well, been there and done that too, so I can relate. Sometimes dogs can be annoying in a variety of ways, and that’s cause they’re dogs, and not four legged and furry saints. But I’m still glad that they’re dogs and not people, cause people often have far worse behavior. Which is one of the major reasons why we need dogs. 🙂

  2. A great piece of writing.. well done on the Heeling Hearts project. Great idea.. ..my only criticism is the use of the word master in relation to the owners of dogs.. reminds me too much like slave master and I know I am being over sensitive but you probably know that about me by now Michelle 😀

    • LOL… it’s okay. I rather struggle with it, too. In the dog training world, it’s used very commonly as well as several other items. But when it comes down logically to it, we are. And I do remind myself that in a relationship with dogs, they WANT a master. It’s in their blood and pure instinct to “work” for their master. It is what makes them happy. It’s not work to them – not like we think of work. When you take the alpha position over your dog (which is VERY important), you are master. It actually relieves them of some stress of potentially being alpha themselves. Of course when owning multiple dogs, there is always an alpha present, sometimes more depending upon how many. We have two alphas in this house and they can NOT be in the same room together… my dog and Lyn’s prize show dog, Igraine. They would rip each others throats out if we gave them the opportunity. LOL… it’s funny though because when either walks through the yard with any of the other dogs, they all part like the parting of the Red Sea. I am definitely alpha over my dog, but I occasionally have that battle with Igraine – and I always win. But she loves to test me.

      Anyway, back to the master… it is what it is. And the dogs are much happier with a master – worker relationship. And the worker doesn’t have to be anything more than a pet that lies in your lap or at your feet. When they know you’re happy by doing so, they’re happy.

    • I read through the flyer Michael gave me and noticed that the term “human partner” was used, so I changed all references of “master” to “human partner.” I like it better, too. Although we are technically their masters, it does have a negative tone to is simply due to history.

  3. Hi. Lovely article and so glad you had the chance to meet Michael and his guide dog, Africa. They are a remarkable team! You can keep up with Mike and Africa’s travels and adventures through Mike’s website, as you already mentioned, or through Roselle’s Facebook page, called Roselle the 9/11 Guide Dog.
    Cheers!
    Susy Flory (Mike’s co-author on his NYT best selling book, Thunder Dog)

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