Roselle was the only guide dog to escape the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, and she did it working collaboratively with her master, Michael Hingson.

Hingson, who is blind, has depended on the companionship and protection of a guide dog since he was 14. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he depended on Roselle to save his life. Together, they climbed down 78 flights of stairs, passing firefighters heading the other direction, in the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. He was in Park City Friday accepting a donation from the Utah affiliate of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, an organization that raises a significant amount of money for Guide Dogs for the Blind every year.

As the manager of a sales and service corporation, Hingson knew the New York building's evacuation procedures and was relatively calm as he left the building. Roselle, who is only afraid of thunderstorms, exhibited trust in Hingson and followed orders as usual. Guide dogs such as Roselle receive extensive training to determine how they will react to different situations that a blind person might face. But there was no training for this kind of experience.

Being blind and getting out of the building alive was what Hingson considers the "easy part." The dramatic part didn't come until they were outside and the south tower was coming down less than 100 yards away. Hingson said he heard a voice that told him not to worry about what he had no control over. He and Roselle just kept running. It was then they had to depend on each other for survival.

Roselle was trained at Guide Dogs for the Blind, located in San Rafael, Calif. Every year, the nonprofit organization provides 350 companions to blind people. Hingson, who now works as a spokesman for the training organization, said the constant companionship of a guide dog is invaluable.

"One of the most important things that we learn at Guide Dogs for the Blind is that we have to develop a two-way trust with the dogs," he said. "It's a very tight-knit, close relationship. We call it independence through interdependence."

In a world that places so much emphasis on sight, Hingson said people should know that the blind function as well as anyone who can see. He doesn't agree with the prejudice society has.

"That is only because there are more of you who can see than those of us who don't see," Hingson said. "Blindness isn't the handicap that I face. The handicap consists of the attitudes and misconceptions that people have about blindness."

Hingson draws on his experiences of not only escaping the 9/11 tragedy, but 30 years in sales and 40 years as a guide dog owner, to address issues of team-building and how the resources that people use to pull together in times of crisis are available in their daily lives.

The events that unfolded that day caused Hingson to re-evaluate his priorities, something he believes everyone should do.

"As humans, we are all taught to fuss about what bothers us," he said. "I've learned to focus more on what I can deal with, and not what I can't control."

Hingson travels around the world sharing a message of trust and teamwork, donating the proceeds from his speaking engagements to Guide Dogs for the Blind. He dedicates himself to ensuring that people move on from difficult times, not forgetting what happened, but not living in fear of the threats of terrorism.

He lives in Novato, Calif., with his wife, Karen and Roselle. He and Roselle have become popular representatives of the strength of the human/animal bond, and they communicate that bond everywhere they go.


E-mail: jwleonard@desnews.com