14th September 2001 – New York City – USA
Faithful dog Dorado leads blind owner Omar Eduardo Rivera 70 floors down the World Trade Center just before the tower collapses.
In the aftershock of the worst terrorist gambit ever to hit the USA, we learn that the greatest inspiration can be found in the words, images and televised coverage of the American peoples’ patriotic strength. But now, pan the cameras down a bit, and you’ll find, just as heartening, the nation’s dogs also upholding this great spirit of gallantry.
New York resident Omar Eduardo Rivera was unfortunate enough to find himself on the 71st floor of the World Trade Center north tower when the hijacked airliner struck the building 25 floors above him. Mr. Rivera, a computer technician who is blind, was in his office with his guide dog «Dorado» lying under the desk at the time.
According to the Contra Costa Times report published today, Mr. Rivera described how he unleashed his faithful friend, so that the dog might escape. But despite the chaos and the crowds of fleeing people, the four-year-old Labrador Retriever suppressed any selfish instinct for survival and instead stayed by the man’s side and guided him to safety.
Mr. Rivera describes the drama:
«I stood up and I could hear how pieces of glass were flying around and falling. I could feel the smoke filling up my lungs and the heat was just unbearable.»
«Not having any sight I knew I wouldn’t be able to run down the stairs and through all the obstacles like other people. I was resigned to dying and decided to free Dorado to give him a chance of escape. It wasn’t fair that we should both die in that hell.
«I thought I was lost forever – the noise and the heat were terrifying – but I had to give Dorado the chance of escape. So I unclipped his lead, ruffled his head, gave him a nudge and ordered Dorado to go.»
«I hoped he would be able to quickly run down the stairs without me and get to safety. I thought he’d be so scared he’d run. Everything was in chaos. Glass was shattering around my head and people were rushing past down the stairs.»
At that point, Dorado was swept away by the rush of people fleeing down the stairs, and Mr. Rivera found himself on his own for several minutes amid the pandemonium. But then the unexpected occurred, in the form of a familiar, fuzzy nudge from knee-high.
Mr. Rivera explains, «He returned to my side a few minutes later and guided me down 70 flights and out into the street, it was amazing. It was then I knew for certain he loved me just as much as I loved him. He was prepared to die in the hope he might save my life.»
Inside the egress stairwell, they found some additional assistance from a co-worker. «I took hold of her arm. She went down on my right side and the dog on my left,» says Mr. Rivera.
The narrow stairwell was extremely crowded, and confusion exacerbated the situation. «People were pushing and shoving past me. Everywhere there was a sense of terror.»
But according to the man, order gradually prevailed: «…most people behaved quite prudently and grasped what was happening, so we walked down in an orderly fashion, but it was slow going. It was slow going because there were so many people struggling to get out but Dorado kept nudging me down step by step.»
It took more than an hour for Dorado, Mr. Rivera and his co-worker to descend those 70 flights of stairs. Not long after they had reached the ground and gotten to safety, the tower collapsed.
Says Mr. Rivera, «I owe my life to Dorado – my companion and best friend.»
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