It is strange for me to be writing this article while I have feelings of both sadness and joy in my heart. Nevertheless, it is something which must be done.
I have the solemn obligation to inform you that my hero guide dog, Roselle, who was with me in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, passed away last evening, Sunday, June 26, 2011 at 8:52 PM. I am sad, of course, because I will miss Roselle so very much, more than any of my other guide dogs. I write with joy because Roselle is in a better place, no longer feeling pain, while I get to have so many fond memories of her.
Roselle was born on March 12, 1998 at Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, California. I heard right from the start that she was quite a mischievous little puppy. She went to Santa Barbara, California to be raised by several puppy raising families. Kay and Ted Stern had the joy and pleasure of spending the longest amount of raiser time with her. Kay and Ted introduced her to airplane flying, New York, snow, and even the theater. I must say that I think the culture did rub off on her.
After her time with puppy raisers she went back to Guide Dogs for the Blind for training. I think I first met her on November 22, 1999. It was obvious from the very beginning that we were a perfect match. Roselle was my fifth guide dog. I could tell that she would be an excellent guide from our very first walk together. What took me a few days to discover was that Roselle was also quite a character; I constantly referred to her as a pixie. Almost from the first night we spent together I found that Roselle was great at stealing socks. She didn’t chew them up; she just carried them around and then hid them somewhere only to bring them out later just to taunt me. She was always willing to give them up undamaged and ready-to-wear although a little bit damp. Her tail wagged through the whole experience. In fact, her tail hardly stop wagging during the almost 12 years I knew her. During my first week with Roselle I also discovered that she was a loud snorer. The Stearns told me later that she could snore with the best of them.
We came home to New Jersey on December 2, 1999. Later that evening she met my retired guide, Linnie. Linnie and Roselle seemed a bit uncomfortable with each other that night and into the middle of the next day. I decided that this awkwardness had gone on long enough and brought out a rope tug bone. I made each of them take an end and I grabbed the middle of the rope. They started off by teaming up and tugging against me. After about 20 seconds of this with mouths inching up toward my fingers from both sides I release the bone and let them go at it alone. From that moment on they were inseparable until Linnie died on July 4, 2002.
On September 11, 2001 Roselle and I were in our office on the 78th floor of Tower One of the
World Trade Center when the tower was struck by American Airlines flight 11 which had been hijacked and was being controlled by terrorists. Our escape from that tower as well as the collapse of Tower Two is well known and, in fact, is the subject of Thunder Dog, a book written by me and Susy Flory, which will be in bookstores soon as well as be available on my website. All I want to say here is that Roselle did an incredible job. She remained poised and calm through the entire day. She gave kisses and love wherever she could and she worked when she needed to do so. I would not be alive today if it weren’t for Roselle. I cannot say enough about the incredible job she did. What Roselle did on 9/11 is a testimony not only to the Stern’s and the others who raised her, but also to her trainer, Todd Jurek, the entire GDB training staff, and all the people who make up the wonderful organization of Guide Dogs for the Blind. Most of all, what Roselle did that day and in fact every day she and I were together is nothing less than the strongest possible evidence I can provide of the value of teamwork and trust.
After 9/11, in fact in mid-January 2002, after Roselle and I had spent countless hours speaking to the media, and at several events including GDB’s Holiday Luncheon, and even riding on a float in the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, Roselle and I were offered a position at Guide Dogs for the Blind to serve as the National Public Affairs Director for the organization. Over the next 6 1/2 years Roselle and I traveled hundreds of thousands of miles throughout the United States and the rest of the world speaking about trust and teamwork, guide dogs, and blindness in general in order to help people understand that the real handicap of blindness is not a lack of eyesight but a lack of proper education about blindness. Roselle took every trip with poise and confidence whether it was to Kansas or Korea. She was an incredible traveler and once even traveled from San Francisco to New Zealand, a 23.5 hour trip, without needing to go to the bathroom once. I did not fare so well.
In 2004, Roselle was diagnosed with immune mediated thrombocytopenia, a condition which caused her body to attack her blood platelets. Through medications we were able to control the disease and Roselle was able to continue guiding. As usual, she worked like a trooper and never once exhibited pain nor discomfort.
When Linnie died in 2002 Roselle lost her major tug companion. For the next four years I mainly had to take up the slack as it were. We did care for some foster dogs from GDB, and in 2003 we adopted Panama, a 12 1/2-year-old career change dog from Guide Dogs. Panama wasn’t a great tugging partner because she didn’t have the strength to keep up with Roselle. In 2006, however, when Panama died at the age of 15 we decided to become a breeder keeper for GDB. Fantasia came to live with us. She was just two years old and was quite able to give as well as she got from Roselle. Again, Roselle found an inseparable friend and made the most of it. She still swiped the occasional pair of socks, but Fantasia was her main interest. Roselle taught Fantasia how to bark every time the doorbell rang and how to beg for treats, although I must admit treat begging came natural to both dogs especially when 8:00 PM rolled around.
In February 2007 during a normal checkup we learned that some of Roselle’s kidney values were changing for the worse. It was decided that the medication regimen on which Roselle had been placed as well as the stress of guiding were the causes for her kidney value changes. Roselle retired from guide work in March of 2007. It was a sad day for all of us, but Roselle took it in stride and soon made it very clear that retirement suited her well. After retirement Roselle loved to take walks most of the time, she loved her meals, her treats, playing Battle of the Bone with Fantasia and later with my current guide dog Africa, and of course barking at the ringing of the doorbell. Roselle was the loudest barker of the bunch. I have fond memories of Roselle, Fantasia, and Africa all tugging on the same rope, all battling each other across our living room giving no care to whatever was in their way.
In 2010, Roselle began exhibiting some chronic back pain. In March of 2010, while attending and speaking at the annual convention of the American Animal Hospital Association Roselle met Doctor Robin Downing, an expert in dog pain management. Robin noticed Roselle’s pain and while I gave three consecutive workshops she spent time with Roselle. I think they got to know each other pretty well that day because right after the workshops Doctor Downing, right there on the floor in the front of the conference room, gave Roselle a back adjustment which clearly helped Roselle and made her back feel somewhat better. We immediately upon our return home took Roselle to her vet and started her on a treatment of acupuncture, some other back adjustments, and herbs which altogether mostly eliminated her chronic back pain.
Earlier this year we noticed that Roselle was beginning to have a harder time standing up on her own, although once she was standing she loved to continue her daily walks. She stopped playing tug bone with Fantasia and Africa, but she still enjoyed lying in the sun, eating, kissing everybody in sight, and barking at the doorbell. Her ability to stand on her own grew worse throughout the first half of this year.
Last week she began exhibiting some other signs of distress and pain. On Friday, June 24, 2011 she had to be taken to her vet as she had begun vomiting blood. It is suspected that somehow she had developed a stomach ulcer. Also, it was discovered that her red blood cell count had dropped significantly. Friday evening she was taken to the Pet Emergency and Specialty Center where she was well known and would receive over night care. She had spent many hours with Doctor Harb and the other staff working through her IMT issues. They had also helped her in January 2009 when she developed gastric torsion and had to undergo emergency surgery to untwist her stomach.
Yesterday, Sunday, June 26, we visited her in the evening only to see her condition continuing to deteriorate. She was in a lot of pain and discomfort. There was no one cause for her discomfort, but Doctor Bowie of the PESC felt that some of her immune mediated related conditions had returned in addition to the possible stomach ulcer. After much consultation and discussion we all came to agreement that the best thing we could do to help Roselle was to assist her in crossing the Rainbow Bridge and go to her friends Linnie and Panama. At 8:52 last evening she crossed the bridge and, I am sure, is now more comfortable and has all the doorbells she wants to bark at.
How can I possibly say goodbye to a dog who is done all Roselle has done and who lived life to the fullest? How can I ever do justice to her life, work, and memory? Roselle has been one of the greatest blessings and gifts I have ever had the joy to let into my life. God surely broke the mold when she came into the world. Including Africa I have had seven guide dogs and also I have had the opportunity to see thousands of them at work. Roselle is unique without a doubt. She worked through the most trying time in our nation’s history, and she was right there unflinching for all of it. Her spirit never diminished and, in fact, grew stronger through the years after 9-11 which helps me be a better person today.
I thank God for the time Karen and I were allowed to have the wonderful creature which was Roselle with us. She touched everyone whom she met and I’m sure everyone’s path she crossed is better for knowing her. She kissed firefighters in the World Trade Center as we descended the stairs. She gave unconditional love to so many people wherever she went. She inspired us all and will continue to do so.
We are about to form the Roselle’s Dream Foundation. This has been in the works for several months. The purposes of the foundation include educating people about blindness, and as donations permit we shall assist blind children and later blind adults in obtaining some of the technologies which will assist them in learning and working in the world. Shortly the website http://www.rosellefoundation.org/ will be up and running. I hope people will honor Roselle by making donations in her memory to the Roselle’s Dream Foundation to help us in our work.
Roselle, your memory will always be with us and I know your spirit will continue to touch us all. I know you’re watching and you’re nearby us. Help us all to be better people and dogs, but most of all be yourself wherever you are. I hope you’re feeling better now. You have set a high bar of love for all of us. Be at peace and know that we shall try to love each other as much as you loved each of us on this earth.
God bless you all,