Castro Valley author Susy Flory says when she first listened to Michael Hingson tell his harrowing account of surviving the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center with help from his guide dog Roselle, the story gave her chills.
It was the spring of 2010 and Flory, now 46, had interviewed Hingson about his experience over the phone for inclusion in her forthcoming book Dog Tales, a collection of true and inspiring stories featuring dogs from around the globe.
Flory said during their initial conversation she asked Hingson if he had ever thought about writing a memoir describing the ordeal. "He said yes, but that he also wanted a collaborator. More chills," she said.
After they said their goodbyes and hung up, Flory realized the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 was coming up. Soon thereafter she approached Hingson about working together, since the two lived less than an hour apart.
"I got chills all over again. I think it was meant to be," Flory said.
She spent much of last summer at his Novato home, where she bonded with Hingson over their shared love of travel, books, dogs and adventure. Hingson, who is blind, recounted how Roselle led him and dozens of others to safety from the 78th floor of Tower 1 moments before it crumbled.
But he has never let his blindness slow him down—not then and not now. He graduated from the University of California, Irvine, with a master's degree in physics and today runs his own consulting firm, piloting small planes and playing golf in his free time.
His determination and positive attitude have left a lasting impression on her, she says.
Flory was recovering from breast cancer when she first met Hingson and said he treats his blindness as an asset, not a liability.
"I am learning to look at my challenges in the same way and I am finding that using what I have to serve others is the biggest adventure of all," she said. "I learned that by lowering my guard, choosing to trust others and working together, we could accomplish great things.
Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog & the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero was released on Aug. 2 and one week later found itself on the New York Times bestseller list, placing in the e-book category, nonfiction hardcover, and combined e-book/nonfiction. The memoir has remained on the list for the last five weeks, which Flory says is "mind-blowing."
Meanwhile, Hingson is readjusting to life without his trusted companion. Roselle, a yellow Labrador retriever, died in June at the age of 13, but her memory lives on in both the book and a foundation Hingson has started in her honor. Roselle's Dream Foundation works to assist blind children and adults in obtaining new technologies.
Roselle has also been named a finalist in the 2011 American Humane Association's American Hero Dog Awards.
"On 9/11, Mike and Roselle never gave up and lived out the first guide dog command: 'Forward,'" Flory says. "Now whenever I face a challenge, that simple word comes to mind as I think of Mike and Roselle at the top of those 1,463 stairs in the North Tower: 'Forward.'"
To see a YouTube trailer for the book, click here.