9/11: The Heart of a Dog

Salty Dog

 Sarah Wilson, MA

Imagine being on the 71st floor the North Tower of the World Trade Center the morning  of 9/11/2001.

Imagine feeling an impact, then hearing the sounds of a building struggling not to come  apart.

Now, imagine you are blind.

That was what Omar Rivera faced. Blind, but with a partner: Salty, his five-year-old,  yellow Labrador guide dog.

Salty led Omar to the stairs. It was hot, dusty, smoky. There was screaming. The panic  of the herd of terrified people stampeding down and the heroic efforts of fully-geared  firefighters pushing their way up.

Salty did not falter. He picked his way through the crowd; getting jostled, kneed,  stepped on, and tripped over.

Omar feared for his dog. With all the heat and confusion around him, he wanted Salty  to have a chance. His partner might make it, on his own. So Omar unclipped the leash,  let go of the handle, and told his dog to go. And, in a shot, Salty was gone.

I cannot imagine the moments that followed. Omar clutching the railing next to him and  trying to work his way down. Confused, with no idea what was going on except his life  going from normal to a hell in a matter of minutes. But I can imagine what it was like,  moments later, to feel that familiar canine body at his side, pressing against his legs.

Salty came back and he would not leave. Omar did what Salty wanted; he picked up  the harness handle, and, together, the pair descended those 70 stories through the  chaos to freedom.

That tower collapsed soon after they made it out.

Salty did what millions of dogs have done for us for the thousands of years we have  shared our lives he did his best. He reached beyond any training and exceeded any  expectation. He would have given his life for Omar, as millions of dogs have given their  lives for us before.

 Through all of life’s nightmares, our dogs do not waiver. They are there with us and for  us, as Salty was for Omar that day in September. They vote with their paws, saying: I’m  here with you and for you, no matter what comes. I will not leave your side.

Good dog, Salty.