Over this winter break from school I was required to read a book about a person with a disability and then write a reflection paper about it. While looking through the long list of approved books, I noticed that not a single one included human-animal interactions. I was sure that such a book must exist and I was determined to read it. I did some research and found I was right; several people have written about how their animals have helped them with their disability. This gave me an idea for my blog; I will read one such book and write about it once a month.
This month's book is Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero by Michael Hingson and Susy Flory.
Michael Hingson was born blind as a result of a medical procedure that was administered to premature babies at the time. He did not let that stop him from anything though, as a child he'd ride his bicycle unaccompanied throughout the neighborhood, in college he drove his car around the campus, and he even flew and landed a Cessna airplane from Boise to Hailey, Idaho (~100 miles).
He was first paired up with a Guide Dog when he was 14. I love how he explains that experience; you get excited along with him as he's waiting to meet his new teammate, Squire. Michael describes the training process he went through to learn the commands, as well as a brief history of Guide Dogs.
"Squire and I developed a partnership, and I learned how to read Squire's body language through the handle of the harness; I could almost tell what he was going to do before he did it. I think he learned to read me too. He was much more than just a pet. Squire was my best friend, and we became a team as he guided me safely through the halls of Palmdale High School for the next four years."
Most of the book is about his partnership with Roselle though. She is the one that was with him in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Roselle is described as having two personalities, one playful and mischievous, stealing socks and hiding them, and the other when she's in her harness calm and focused.
That calm and focus allowed Michael to remain calm and clearheaded about the situation as they walked down 1,463 stairs to escape Tower 1. When a woman started to panic, Roselle nudged her hand; a moment after rubbing Roselle, the woman was able to continue on. As a team, they demonstrated that it was going to be ok, they would make it out alive.
Michael talks about how wise his Guide Dogs are and included this list in his book:
"What I learned from Roselle on 9/11
1. There's a time to work and a time to play. Know the difference. When the harness goes on, it's time to work. Work hard; others are depending on you.
2. Focus in and use all of your senses. Learn to tell the difference between a harmless thunderstorm and a true emergency. Don't let your sight get in the way of your vision.
3. Sometimes the way is hard, but if you work together, someone will pass along a water bottle just when you need it.
4. Always, but always, kiss firefighters.
5. Ignore distractions. There's more to life than playing fetch or chasing tennis balls.
6. Listen carefully to those who are wiser and more experienced than you. They'll help you find the way.
7. Don't stop until work is over. Sometimes being a hero is just doing your job.
8. The dust cloud won't last forever. Keep going and look for the way out. It will come.
9. Shake off the dust and move on. Remember the first guide dog command? "Forward"
10. When work is over, play hard with your friends. And don't forget to share your Booda Bone."
Sadly, Roselle passed away on June 26, 2011. You can learn more about her life and make a contribution at Roselle's Dream Foundation.
Overall, I really enjoyed reading this book. I learned that being blind is not necessarily a disability, it just means that you experience life differently, and we all experience life differently. At the end of the book there are some neat extras including a timeline of the events of September 11th, courtesy rules for blindness, a dissertation about blindness, resources for blindness, and a glossary of terms related to blindness.