I realize it’s been more than 10 years now since the World Trade Center tragedy. Honestly, I don’t like remembering it. I tend to avoid articles related to it, but as I was surfing I ran across a story I hadn’t heard before and one I couldn’t ignore. Stories like this are always inspiring to me. They not only encompass our humanity, but shine the light on just how loving, courageous and special our animal companions are too.
This is the story of Dorado, a then 4-year-old yellow Labrador Retriever seeing-eye dog for New York resident Omar Eduardo Rivera who worked as a computer technician on the 71st floor of the north tower. When the tragedy struck several floors above him, Dorado was laying contentedly under his masters desk. Mr. Rivera, who is blind, realized the gravity of the situation by the din of the chaos around him. He held little hope to escape in time, so he unleashed his patient friend and turned him loose in hopes he could save himself.
“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 Mr. Rivera, his coworker and Dorado more than an hour to descend those 70 floors. Shortly after arriving on the street to safety, the north tower collapsed.
Says Mr. Rivera, “I owe my life to Dorado—my companion and best friend.”