Disabled Dealer Magazine April 2013
Remembering Roselle – A True Hero
By David Block
The relationship between a service dog and its owner goes beyond the loving bond of a pet for its owner. Most service dogs are chosen for their intelligence, their ability to learn quickly, their dedication to helping people, and their ability to ignore distractions.
Michael Hingson, Author of Thunder Dog (2011) said that he and his guide dog are a team. The guide dog is the pilot and he is the navigator.
Hingson and his guide dog, Roselle, walked down 77 flights of stairs to escape the World Trade Center Building on September 11, 2001.
Hingson was born February 24, 1950, 59 days early. He was born with Retrolental Fbroplasia, RLF, (known today as Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) a disease which damages the retina’s blood vessels due to a pure oxygen environment given to prematurely born infants put full time in incubators. However, his parents refused to treat him as if he were helpless. They believed that, they should let him do everything that fully able-bodied children did limited only by the same rules all children were expected to obey. His parents wanted him to be able to handle the challenges that the world threw at him.
When he peddled his toy car into the living room coffee table, his parents told him to be more careful. Minor bumps and bruises were just part of the learning curve just as for any other child. Besides being more careful, he now listened quite carefully to his surroundings. He heard where everything in the living room was, thus helping him avoid crashing into the coffee table again. In Thunder Dog, he elaborated how he became well versed to using sonar to his advantage at a young age.
Hingson learned to ride a bike by working with his parents and a neighbor. Eventually, he rode his bike unsupervised anywhere in his rural California neighborhood. Irate neighbors called his parents to complain that your blind child is riding his bike alone and unsupervised. “My parents responded by asking ‘Did he get into an accident? Did he hurt anyone?’ When they’d say no, my parents told them to stop worrying about it.” He said that he avoided accidents, simply by listening to his surroundings. He could tell if people and objects were nearby. It all came down to paying close attention. He used that strategy as an adult when he learned to drive a car and to fly an airplane with hands on supervision.
To date, the 63-year-old Hingson has had seven guide dogs. According to Hingson, the standard age to get a guide dog is 16. Hingson got his first guide dog when he was 14. “giving a guide dog to younger teenagers is done on a case by case basis although it is happening more frequently,” Hingson said.
When Hingson needs to walk in an unfamiliar area for the first time, he will use his cane instead of his guide dog especially when he plans to be in that area quite a lot. “The advantage of using a cane is that it finds things that my guide dog is supposed to keep me from walking into.”
When he walked around the World Trade Center for the first time, he used his cane to learn where the permanent structures (trashcans, etc) were located. The cane provided him with a full picture of his environment. With that map in his head, he was able to navigate his guide dog more efficiently.
The Mailbox Strikes Back
Hingson has had his share of accidents with certain guide dogs. His second guide dog, Holland, walked him into his mailbox four times in a row. “Holland went under the mailbox because it was mounted up [high] on a pole. I kept hitting it with my arm.” Hingson had to teach Holland to look up in order to avoid the obstacle over Holland’s head. On the fifth try, Hingson jerked the leash and the top of Holland’s head hit the bottom of the mailbox. From then on, Holland gave the mailbox a wide berth.
Was that an Earthquake?
On the morning of September 11, 2001, Hingson was in his office on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center.
He heard a muffled thud and felt the building sway to one side. From living in California, Hingson knew that earthquakes shake buildings from front to back, side to side and up and down. Therefore, Hingson knew that this was no earthquake. Something was terribly wrong, and everyone evacuated the building using the fire stairs even without being told to do so.
“I knew that walking down 77 flights of stairs was going to be difficult,” said Hingson. The fire stairs were in a poorly lit, narrow, fireproof, concrete tower. “Our best chance to escape was for Roselle and me to remain calm and work as a team.” Hingson was calm because Roselle was calm.
“There was nothing that she was detecting that made her nervous,” said Hingson. Because the plane hit the 96th floor – 18 floors above Hingson’s office – there was no smoke or fire for Roselle to smell and no chaos for her to pick up emotionally. “I knew that if I did not panic, neither would Roselle.”
One trick he used to keep himself calm was to figure out the number of steps that he and Roselle had to walk down. He counted 10 steps down, then a 180 degree turn, then nine more steps between floors. “I did the math: 19 steps per floor x 77 floors = 1,463 steps.”
Hingson continued: “I encouraged her to go down the stairs. I praised her a lot. That helped me focus on her. She responded to my praise, and I knew that she was not anxious.”
They successfully made it outside the World Trade Center. He phoned his wife, who filled him in on the terrorists’ attacks.
Roselle died in 2011 at the age of 13. Hingson believes that she contracted an illness from the toxins that she inhaled on 9/11. Hingson’s book, Thunder Dog, which he co/authored with Susy Flory, was published in 2011. Thunder Dog recounts Hingson’s 9/11 experience with Roselle, interspersed with his life story.
The book consists of additional HIngson triumphs. For example, while in school, the school administration told him that he could not bring his guide dog on the school bus. His parents knew that that was a bogus rule, so they fought it and won. That taught Hingson to fight for things whenever he knew that he was right and to not let anyone intimidate him.
Advice for People with Disabilities who have Low Self Esteem
Hingson said that it is easy to turn your liability (disability) into an asset. Doing this helped him land a sales job. Hingson remembered: “I wrote in my cover letter, ‘the most important thing you can know about me is that I’m blind. The reason, as a blind person, I had to sell/convince people to let me rent an apartment, fly on airplanes, buy a house, etc. So when you’re hiring someone for this job, do you want to hire someone who simply sells for a living where it’s only their profession, they go home and don’t think about it and live by different rules, or do you want to hire someone who understands sales for the science and art that it is, and who sells full time just to survive?’ I not only got the interview, but I got the job.”
(On a personal note, I have turned my partial blindness from a liability to an asset. In 1998, I wanted to interview the reputable jazz pianist McCoy Tyner for Jazz Journal International. His publicist turned me down. I then told the publicist that I was going to be in New York City the next month running the NYC Marathon. I asked if I could stop by her office the next day just to say ‘hi.’ She agreed, but said that that wouldn’t change anything. The next day, I showed up in her office, holding my blind man’s cane and wearing my NYC Marathon finishing medal. The publicist’s boss was so impressed that a half blind person could run a marathon, that he promised me an interview with McCoy Tyner. I got the interview with him a few months later. On a final note, my website is www.blindfilmmaker.com -I gave it that name because I know that many people cannot imagine that can make documentaries. I produce and direct them. People have found the name of my website intriguing enough to visit it. It has gotten me media coverage, which I might not have received.)
Today Hingson travels the world as a keynote and inspirational lecturer. He uses his expertise on leadership, teamwork, and blindness to inspire and teach audiences about handling change, moving from diversity to inclusion, and how to form better personal and professional teams. He is one of the top ten educational speakers in the United States as well as one of the most sought after keynote speakers in the world.
To learn more about Thunder Dog and to explore booking Michael Hingson as a speaker, log onto www.michaelhingson.com.