‘Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog and The Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero’ by Michael Hingson with Susy Flory (Thomas Nelson, 2011). An amazing tribute to the guide dog who rescued Hingson from the 78th floor of the North Tower on 9/11.
Reviewed by Don Messerschmidt. LiteraryDogs@gmail.com
This is both a memoir of the blind author, and a memorial to his service dog Roselle, as well as a statement about the triumph of trust between man and dog as they slowly but safely exited the World Trade Center on 9/11, as the world was falling apart around them… It also presents us with a triumphant story about growing up blind with confidence and courage. Today, Michael Hingson is the U.S. national ambassador for the Braille Literary Campaign, and a popular speaker on being blind and about inclusiveness and diversity in society. His is a story worth telling.
Throughout the book, his service dog, Roselle, the ‘Thunder Dog’ of the title (so named because she disliked the sound of thunder and loud noises), takes center stage as she and Michael Hingson worked their way down the crowded stairway from the 78th floor of Tower-1 to street level, shortly before the towers began to collapse. Within minutes they found themselves engulfed by the thick dust cloud caused by the falling towers, so thick that Hingson was afraid he and the dog would literally drown. But they didn’t. “Somewhere deep inside was a tiny fragment of faith that if Roselle and I worked together, we would be okay. And somehow we walked out of that cloud and survived.”
Roselle’s life after 9/11 was problematic. She contracted a lung infection contracted from all the dust. Nonetheless, until Roselle retired from serving Hingson in 2007, she went everywhere with him.
As a result of her role in guiding Hingson out of the Trade Center, Roselle earned a number of prestigious awards—the ‘Heroes of Hartz’ award from Hart Mountain Corporation, including a large donation of money to the Guide Dogs for the Blind program; the British ‘PDSA Dicken Medal’, often called “The Animals’ Victoria Cross” and given to animals that have displayed conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty; the American Kennel Club’s ‘ACD Award for Canine Excellence’; and special recognition from Guide Dogs for the Blind upon retirement for “displaying exemplary courage, steadfastness, and partnership in learning. Roselle’s name was also read into the National Congressional Record in recognition of her service.
Hingson got his first service dog at age 14. What a change! “Having a guide dog for the first time,” he writes, “was like breaking the sound barrier, and I knew my life would never be the same.” Meanwhile, he had taught himself to “see” by a type of echolocation (he could ‘hear’ walls, doorways and furniture) and he even learned to ride a bicycle. Even with his service dog at his side, he lived a remarkably independent and unencumbered life.
The book has 14 chapters and numerous Appendices about resources for the blind, plus a Foreword by Larry King. But ahead of that there’s a memoriam to Roselle, who died in 2011 as the book was going to press.
Thunder Dog is a remarkable story about the ties that bind dog and man. It is a magnificent testament to the training and perseverance of dog and master and their combined will to survive.