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Image: guide dog Roselle
Spencer Platt  /  Getty Images
Guide dog Roselle, clearly unphased by all the attention at a 2002 awards ceremony, was posthumously named American Hero Dog by the American Humane Association.
TODAY.com
updated 10/3/2011 2:27:37 PM ET 2011-10-03T18:27:37

Computer sales manager Michael Hingson was at his desk on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center’s north tower on the morning of 9/11 when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the other side of the building, 18 floors above. And he lived to tell the tale because of his guide dog, Roselle.

The yellow lab calmly guided her blind charge 1,463 steps out of the building and, as debris fell and dust billowed, found a subway station and led them both underground to safety.

Roselle died in June at the age 13, but her heroism lives on. At a star-studded red carpet event in L.A. Saturday night the yellow lab was was honored as the American Hero Dog of the Year.

"She saved my life," Hingson wrote on the American Humane Association's site. More than 400,000 people cast votes for Roselle and 7 other finalists. But it was Hingson's moving description of her actions on 9/11 that helped her take the top dog honor.

Just as they got out of the building on 9/11, the south tower collapsed. "While everyone ran in panic, Roselle remained totally focused on her job," Hingson wrote. "While debris fell around us, and even hit us, Roselle stayed calm."

Hingson, the seven other finalists and their handlers were flown to Los Angeles to attend the ceremony at the Beverly Hills Hilton where they were joined by another four-legged celebrity, RIN TIN TIN Smith, a twelfth-in-line descendant of the original RIN TIN TIN. These four-legged celebrities were joined by a raft of two-legged ones including celebrity judges Betty White, Whoopi Goldberg, Kristin Chenoweth, Mark Hamill, Jillian Michaels, Susan Orlean (author of the new book, “RIN TIN TIN: The Life and the Legend”), TODAY's Jill Rappaport and Top Chef Fabio Viviani.

“Every day, across America, dogs protect, comfort, and give their unconditional friendship and affection to the ill, the infirm, the wounded veteran, and the frightened child,” Robin Ganzert, President and CEO of the American Humane Association, said of the awards. “It was time to recognize the contributions of man’s best friends and celebrate the heroic feats they have performed for us every day."

Hero dog saves boy, 11, from cougar attack

A few months after 9/11, after making the talk show rounds with Roselle by his side, Hingson was offered a job as national public affairs director for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Roselle accompanied him on trips around the world until she retired in 2007. Last year he published a book chronicling the events of that day: "Thunder Dog: A Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero." According to his blog, she died in June from complications related to immune mediated thrombocytopenia, a condition which caused her body to attack her blood platelets.

On Saturday night she was honored along with Zurich, a Labrador retriever and service dog who diligently cares for a woman who can no longer walk or speak; Ricochet, a dog who helps special-needs children and people with disabilities by surfing with them; and Sadie, a brave K-9 and arson dog who has worked hundreds of fires and whose efforts have led to numerous arrests.

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Pet saviors: 11 animals who saved humans

Other canine finalists included:

—Stacey Mae, a therapy dog who has helped collect thousands of teddy bears from around the world for sick children in hospitals;

—Bino, a military working dog and patrol K-9 who has served in Iraq and has masterfully helped the U.S. Border Patrol with narcotics detection;

—Harley, a hearing dog who has given his owner self-confidence and a feeling of equality with others that she had not experienced before, and

—Sage, a K-9 and search-and-rescue dog who has participated in numerous missing persons searches, including the search for U.S. soldiers in Iraq and for teenager Natalee Holloway in Aruba. Sage also has helped with recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and the Sept. 11 terrorist attack at the Pentagon.

Image: Ricochet the surfing dog
Robert Ochoa  /  Pawmazing Photography
Finalist Ricochet is a dog who helps special-needs children and people with disabilities by surfing with them.

Saturday’s awards show was hosted by Carson Kressley of “Carson Nation” and “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” fame. The “Hero Dog Awards” will premiere as a 90-minute special broadcast on the Hallmark Channel on Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

-- TODAY.com contributor Laura T. Coffey contributed to this report

For more visit HeroDogAwards.Org.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive.  Reprints

Explainer: 11 animals who saved humans

  • Image: Lady
    TODAY
    For many of us, the animals in our lives are faithful pals who make us laugh, keep us company and love us no matter what. But in times of danger and tragedy, can we also count on them to save our very lives?

    If dozens of incidents are any indication, the answer to that question is, pretty reliably, yes. Click "Next" for 11 outstanding examples of animals who saved the lives of humans.

  • Dog saves 11-year-old boy from cougar attack

    Image: Angel
    TODAY
    When a hungry cougar came calling, an 11-year-old boy named Austin Forman had Angel on his side.

    It happened on a dark Sunday evening in British Columbia, Canada, when Austin went outside to collect wood for his family's wood-burning furnace. He noticed that Angel, his happy-go-lucky golden retriever, was acting much more cautious and guarded than usual. Within moments, a cougar tried to pounce on Austin from less than 10 feet away. Angel jumped directly into the big cat's path and bore the brunt of the attack instead.

    "She was my best friend, but now she's even greater to me. She's more than a best friend now," Austin said after the attack, which almost certainly would have killed Angel if a local police constable hadn't managed to shoot the cougar.

    The 18-month-old dog had surgery to repair extensive injuries to her head. "I was just lucky my dog was there, because it happened so fast I wouldn't have known what hit me," Austin said. "I bought her a big, nice juicy steak."

    Read the related story

  • Cat protects couple from deadly gas leak

    Image: Greg Guy and his cat, Schnautzie
    Ryan Hall  /  Great Falls Tribune
    Schnautzie was still just a kitten when she did something big — really big — for her owners. At about 2 a.m. on a cold night in October 2007, Schnautzie ambled up onto the chest of sleeping Trudy Guy and began tapping Guy's nose with her paw. The first time it happened, Guy ignored the adorable annoyance and went back to sleep. But Schnautzie was persistent: Tap. Tap. Tap.

    This time around, the pats on the nose woke Guy up, and she noticed the way Schnautzie was sniffing the air. She awakened her husband, Greg Guy, and they both heard an ominous hissing noise. A gas pipe leading into their Montana home had broken and was filling their basement with fumes.

    The Guys and their trusty feline fled the house. Firefighters later told the couple that if the furnace had kicked on — highly probable on such a cold night — the whole house could have exploded in flames. Schnautzie's efforts earned her a Purple Paw award from the Great Falls (Mont.) Animal Foundation.

    Read the related story

  • Dog leads owner to elderly man freezing in snow

    Image: Effie
    Brett Grinde
    This is a photo of a dog named Effie who found a 94-year-old man frozen to a sidewalk in Minnesota in January 2010.
    On a frigid afternoon during a cold Minnesota winter, Brett Grinde took his 15-year-old German Shorthaired dog Effie for a walk. Just a regular walk along their regular route -- until Effie began behaving strangely.

    "At the 'T' we always go left," Grinde told the Pine City Pioneer newspaper. "She started pulling to the right. Effie has never, ever done that, and hasn't pulled in a long time."

    Effie was so beside herself that Grinde, an investigator with the Pine County Sheriff's Office, decided to let go of her leash and let her run. She sprinted straight to a driveway about 40 yards away, where a 94-year-old man was frozen to the ground. "He had serious exposure and blood underneath him," Grinde said. "I have seen plenty of deceased people and thought he was dead."

    He wasn't dead, though, and because of Effie's intervention he was able to get emergency medical care. The man did die a few days later, but Grinde remains grateful that Effie ended his misery in the cold. "I think the one above heard the man suffering and pointed Effie in the right direction," he said. "It's all in God's hands one way or another."

    Read the related story

  • Dog brings help to burning home

    Image: Buddy
    TODAY
    Remember how, in all those old TV shows and movies, Lassie the collie could always be counted on to run and get help? Well, Lassie has a new understudy: Buddy the German shepherd.

    On a cold, night in Alaska, a fire erupted at the home of Buddy's owners. One of them, 23-year-old Ben Heinrichs, got Buddy safely outside and told him, "We need to get help."

    That's just what Buddy did. He dashed off and eventually encountered the vehicle of a state trooper who had gotten lost on rural roads while trying to respond to the blaze. Buddy got his attention and began running at top speed down snowy streets, directing the trooper right to the fire. During the rush to the inferno, the dog kept looking back over his shoulder to make sure the trooper was keeping up.

    Buddy's entire rescue effort was captured by a video camera on the trooper's dashboard.

    Read the related story

    Video: Alaska state trooper speaks out on TODAY
  • Dog saves blind owner from blood-sugar crash

    Image: Joe Mauk and his dog, Roxanne
    Roxanne was carefully trained as a guide dog for the blind — but she received no training at all to sense an impending medical crisis. The faithful Labrador retriever figured that part out all on her own.

    Her handler, Joe Mauk of Brookville, Pa., had lost his vision after enduring Type I diabetes for years. In early 2010, he got all set to take Roxanne out for her evening walk, but she resisted. "She wouldn't get in her harness and kept laying down and putting her head on her legs," Mauk told PeoplePets.com.

    Mauk finally managed to coax her outside — and during the walk, he collapsed. "My blood sugar crashed," he said. "It was pretty much a crawl back to my house — I was fighting for consciousness." Roxanne madly licked his hands and dragged him back home by her leash. "I remember getting my front door open, but from there it went blank. When I came to, a syringe of glucagon still in my leg, I was saturated from sweat — and from Roxanne licking my face and arms. I'd never felt her react to anything that way before."

    Since the incident, Roxanne has been exceptionally protective and attentive with Mauk. "I've never felt safer in my life," he said. "She has one eye open all the time."

    Read the full story from PeoplePets.com

  • Cat saves couple pregnant with twins

    Image: Baby the cat
    Some cats, like Baby the 13-year-old tabby, tend to be timid all their lives. But on a night in January when multiple lives were at stake, Baby's personality changed.

    Josh Ornberg and Letitia Kovalovsky — who was seven months pregnant with twins — had fallen asleep on the couch in their suburban Chicago home. The couple's house was stocked with baby gear and recently assembled cribs.

    A fire began in a back bedroom, and the house began filling with smoke. Baby jumped on Ornberg and woke him up. "It's kind of embarrassing that I needed my cat to wake me up, but she was my fire detector," Ornberg told PeoplePets.com. "She's usually not a very social cat, but she jumped on my lap and was jumping around."

    The fire destroyed nearly all of the couple's possessions and made the home uninhabitable for a time — but everyone survived. Wonder Lake Fire Protection Assistant Chief Mike Weber called Baby a hero. "We don't know what the outcome would have been if not for the cat," Weber said.

    Read the full story from PeoplePets.com

  • Chihuahua saves elderly women from drowning

    Image: Chi Chi
    TODAY
    Chihuahuas are known for being tiny, adorable and, in some cases, a little yappy. In October 2008, one 13-pound Chihuahua named Chi Chi yipped and yapped so hysterically that he couldn't be ignored.

    His owners, Rick and Mary Lane, had taken Chi Chi with them to the beach on North Carolina's Outer Banks. The diminutive doggie was resting in his own beach chair (and restrained with a leash) when he suddenly went berserk. "He leapt out of his beach chair, still attached, dragging the beach chair, and he started sending out an alarm," Mary Lane said. "He was making a sound we never heard before. Rick said, 'Hey, what's the matter with the dog?'"

    Chi Chi had spotted something horrible happening about 100 yards down the beach. "There was a storm surge, and there were two elderly ladies — one had fallen on her back headfirst into the surf," Mary Lane said. "The other lady ... was trying to hold her head up, and she was in danger of being washed out."

    Thanks to Chi Chi's warning, the Lanes rescued the women from the riptide.

    See the related story

    Video: Owners chat with TODAY hosts
  • Dog helps paralyzed owner escape fire

    Image: Jake Vernon and his dog, Gracie Bean
    Jake Vernon was groggy and in pain. The 32-year-old had been paralyzed in a car accident 10 years earlier, and he had recently broken his right leg. On the morning of St. Patrick's Day, he took some medication he had been prescribed and tried drifting off to sleep.

    But his dog Gracie Bean really wanted him to wake up. She yipped and yowled and ran around and around. Vernon told her to knock it off. "I even swatted her a few times and told her to lay down and be good," he told PeoplePets.com.

    Finally, though, Gracie prompted him to wake up enough to see that his bed's headboard was on fire. The flames were spreading to his pillows and blankets, and they would soon engulf his entire Spokane, Wash., home. Vernon had to struggle to get out of bed, into his wheelchair, out his back door and down his home's only wheelchair ramp. Gracie, an American pit bull terrier, stayed completely calm and remained by Vernon's side throughout the ordeal. Vernon survived with some minor burns and wounds on his legs. "What was so crazy was my dog was not afraid of the fire," he said. "My dog walked right between me and the fire and stayed right there."

    Read the full story from PeoplePets.com

  • Dolphins rescue surfer from shark attack

    Image: A dolphin
    The shark attack was horrific. A great white had mauled surfer Todd Endris' right leg and removed the skin off his back like a banana peel.

    Just then, a pod of bottlenose dolphins came to Endris' aid. They circled the surfer and blocked the shark's access to him, making it possible for Endris to catch a wave back to shore on his board and get medical help.

    The attack happened in August 2007 at Marina State Park off Monterey, Calif. The dolphins had been playing and frolicking in the area that morning while Endris and his friends surfed. Endris has no doubt that their intervention at just the right moment saved his life. "Truly a miracle," he said.

    Read the related story

    Video: Todd Endris speaks out on TODAY
  • Family dog kept missing 3-year-old girl safe

    Image: Victoria Bensch
    Yavapai County Sheriff's Office
    Arizona is known for its warm temperatures, but in the month of February, it can get downright cold after dark. It was on just such a night that a 3-year-old little girl named Victoria Bensch vanished while playing in her yard. She wound up spending the whole night outside in 30-degree temperatures wearing little more than a T-shirt -- but fortunately, she had a friend with her to keep her warm.

    One of the Bensch family's dogs, a Queensland heeler named Blue, stayed by the girl's side as she wandered off at about 5 p.m. Victoria walked and walked with her lifelong pal and apparently got lost. Her disappearance triggered a massive search that continued throughout the night.

    A rescue helicopter crew finally spotted Blue, then Victoria, just before 9 o'clock the following morning. She was rushed to a hospital and treated for frostbite. "We have to give a lot of credit to Blue," said Kim Rayfield, Victoria's aunt. "He pretty much stayed with her all night."

    Read the related story

  • Dog stayed by deceased owner's side for 7 days

    Image: Lady and 81-year-old Parley Nichols
    The animal chosen for the concluding story in this feature wasn't able to save the life of her owner. But she absolutely tried.

    Lady, a 6-year-old golden retriever, was a loyal companion to 81-year-old Parley Nichols of Hartville, Ohio. The two were always together, and Nichols never left his home without his dog. So when Nichols, who had dementia, wandered off and went missing, Lady stayed right by his side.

    "Dad had been wandering around, and we kept looking for him for a solid week, sending out flyers, doing whatever we could," Terry Nichols, one of Parley's two sons, told PeoplePets.com. A neighbor alerted Nichols to a dog barking and apparently trying to get attention near a creek outside of town, so he and his family investigated. "We found Lady and my dad, who was already dead," Nichols said. "Lady was standing by his side protecting him. We are sure that she never left my dad for seven days, staying alive by drinking water from the creek. ...

    "I don't know how dogs perceive things but she knew she had to stay with dad no matter what. And she did."

    Read the full story from PeoplePets.com

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