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'A time to rejoice': Blind man can keep hero dog, thanks to donations

Dec. 18, 2013 at 4:38 PM ET

Video: A heroic guide dog named Orlando is getting praise for saving his owner, a blind man named Cecil Williams, who fell onto the subway tracks in New York, and barking for help, which ultimately saved the man’s life.

Thanks to overwhelming support from well wishers, the aging guide dog who saved his blind master after he fell onto New York City subway tracks can keep living with his owner after he retires from service next year, the dog's owner said Wednesday.

Cecil Williams, 61, tumbled from a subway platform in upper Manhattan after fainting Tuesday morning. His black Labrador guide dog, Orlando, jumped down to the tracks and kissed Williams to revive him as witnesses tried to slow an oncoming train. 

"I lost consciousness and he was trying to pull me back," an emotional Williams said during a news conference from the New York hospital where he was recovering. "But when you have a dog in a harness, I guess I fell over and he fell over with me. When we fell over, he stayed down there with me. And he was licking my face, but he was there for me." 

Both were struck but only received minor injuries, and Williams credits Orlando for saving his life.

Video: At an emotional press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Cecil Williams says it's a miracle he's alive after he lost consciousness and tumbled with his guide dog in front of an oncoming New York City subway train.

Initial stories about the dog's rescue drew widespread concern over whether Orlando would be able to keep living with Williams. At nearly 11 years old, Orlando is set to retire early next year, but Williams’ insurance will only pay for an actively working dog. 

"It’s a time to rejoice," Williams said at Wednesday's press conference. "I appreciate that people got together and they helped me to keep Orlando. ... Somebody made a donation, and it is going to cover him for the rest of his life."

Williams said that Guiding Eyes for the Blind, the organization that trained and provided Orlando, has assured him that Orlando will be taken care of even after Williams gets a replacement guide dog.

"When I get the other dog, he will retire and be a pet," Williams said. "He’s been working for eight years straight, taking me through New York, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and everywhere. It’s time for him to retire. He’s about 77 (dog) years old. He's a senior citizen. He got gray hair. He’s looking forward to enjoying life now."

In a statement released on the organization's website, Guiding Eyes for the Blind addressed the overwhelming calls and emails it has received. 

"We recognize everyone's concern about Orlando's future — whether he stays with Cecil or goes back to the loving home of his puppy raiser, please know he will be honored like the hero he is," the group said.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind spokeswoman Michelle Brier told The Associated Press that the family that raised Orlando as a puppy would be "absolutely thrilled to have him back" if it comes to pass that Williams can't handle caring for two dogs. 

"They're very thrilled their little baby has made such a big difference," Brier said. 

The organization was setting up a fund and planned to post information on its website. If it turns out Williams doesn't need the money, it will be used for other guide dogs, the organization told The Associated Press. Other fund-raising efforts launched on the sites Indiegogo and GoFundMe have raised more than $60,000 on behalf of the pair.

Williams said he no longer has concerns about his dog's fate, particularly after hearing about the overwhelming support from people moved by his story.

"All the people that contributed or donated, we should take our hat off to them," he said. "There's still good people in this world."

Orlando is Williams' second guide dog, and the pair have a close bond.

"He's my best buddy," Williams said. "He's my pal. We run together. He takes me on the train, he takes me on the buses, he takes me everywhere I need to go. ...

"I know that angels are miracles. I believe in them. That’s what saved me down on the track."

Earlier Wednesday, hundreds of people also expressed concern on TODAY’s Facebook page over Orlando’s fate when his story first broke and asked how they could help Williams keep his best friend. 

“My family and I would love to skip purchasing presents for Xmas and donate the money to Cecil. This man needs to keep his furry four legged family member!!!!” Kristin Davies wrote.

LeNore Ralston noted that Williams ultimately will need a younger guide dog “so there needs to be funding to help him keep his old buddy and be able to have fresh, young eyes helping him out, as well," she wrote. "I'm sure someone can pull this off!"

Social media users also shared the story on Twitter. One person encouraged wealthy New Yorkers to "pony up" to help the pair.

This story was first published at 8:41 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013.

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