This week The Bark published a post I wrote for them about guide dog Roselle and her blind partner Michael Hingson. The pair were on the 78th floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. They worked in tandem to get out safely, taking 1,463 steps one at a time. From my post on The Bark blog:
I met Michael Hingson five years after the September 11 tragedy. He and I were in Raleigh, N.C., with our guide dogs, both of us presenting at a 2006 conference for people who work in blind services. Michael’s speech about experiences with Roselle on 9/11 wowed the crowd.
“You have got to write a book!” I told him at the hotel bar after our presentations.
Michael was way ahead of me, of course. He was already working on a book. We kept up with each other via email after the conference, and 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 was published by Thomas Nelson Publishers last month.
Two years later, however, Roselle’s body started attacking her blood platelets. Michael’s beloved yellow Labrador Retriever was diagnosed with immune mediated thrombocytopenia. He was able to control the disease with medication, but after a while the medication and the stress of guide work got to be too much for Roselle. She retired from guide work in March of 2007.
While it would be absurdly presumptuous to compare Harper’s life here in Chicago with the unbelievable trauma of 911, Roselle’s story, along with my life with Harper the past ten months, tells me that dogs, like humans, can take a while to process trauma.
Here’s what happened to us: On a cold day back in January, Harper stopped at a busy Chicago intersection, I listened, heard the traffic going straight at our parallel, and commanded “forward!” The woman driving the van said later that she didn’t see us. Maybe she was on her cell phone as she made that right turn. Texting? I have no way of knowing, because I couldn’t see her, either. Thank goodness Harper was watching. He saved our lives, pulling us away from the van with such force that I fell backward, cracking the back of my head on the concrete. Later on, when Mike inspected Harper’s harness, he discovered it was bent.
Harper worked fine for weeks after the accident. It wasn’t until a month or two later that he started showing fear around traffic. A Seeing Eye trainer came out to help in April. A second trainer visited in August. A third trainer was here last week, and after observing Harper’s behavior on the street (tail between his legs, head down, panting, trembling) he doesn’t doubt that the near-miss last January is the cause.
So, can dogs suffer from something like post-traumatic stress disorder? Thanks to Roselle and Harper, Michael Hingson and I are alive to tell you. Yes. They can.