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."
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.
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.
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.