[nfbwatlk] Blind man & guide dog survive fall onto subway tracks

William Freeman wfreeman at nwic.edu
Wed Dec 25 22:29:30 UTC 2013

In case you did not hear about this -- from the New York Times Dec 18 & 19.
The text of each of 2 articles, a day apart, are below.
If you want to see the 2 photos of the man and his guide dog, click on the 2 webpage addresses.
The photos show that Orlando, the guide dog, is indeed getting old. Like me and my beard, he is getting white around his muzzle!
Happy holidays, everyone!



Blind Man and His Dog Survive Fall Onto Harlem Subway Tracks

As Cecil Williams moved dangerously close to the edge of the platform at a Harlem subway station on Tuesday morning, his guide dog's training and instincts seemed to kick in. The dog, a black Labrador named Orlando, tried to pull Mr. Williams, who is blind, back from the edge.

But for reasons that are not completely clear, both Mr. Williams, 60, and his dog tumbled onto the track as horrified commuters looked on.

After moments of confusion, an employee from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority arrived and told Mr. Williams, who was sitting upright in the track bed, to lie down in the trench between the rails and not try to climb back on the platform, the agency said in a statement.

That is when bystanders heard a train approaching.

"Everyone started freaking out, waving to the train for it to stop, but it wouldn't stop," said Danya Gutierrez, 19, a student who witnessed the scene. "I turned around because I didn't want to see what was going to happen."

About one and a half cars of an uptown A train passed over Mr. Williams and Orlando before coming to a stop, said Marisa Baldeo, a spokeswoman for the transportation authority.

Neither Mr. Williams nor his dog was hit by the train.

Mr. Williams, who lives in Brooklyn, suffered several cuts and was listed in stable condition at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, the authorities said. Orlando, his 11-year-old companion, did not appear seriously injured and was by his master's hospital bedside on Tuesday evening.

"I'm feeling amazed," Mr. Williams told The Associated Press. "I feel that God, the powers that be, have something in store from me. They didn't take me away this time. I'm here for a reason."

Mr. Williams told The A.P. that Orlando would soon retire. Because his insurance will not cover the dog in retirement, Mr. Williams said he would most likely have to give him up for adoption.

Mr. Williams was waiting at the 125th Street subway station at St. Nicholas Avenue about 9:30 a.m. on his way to the dentist when he started to feel faint.

"He tried to hold me up," Mr. Williams said of Orlando.

Normally guide dogs assigned to the blind in large cities like New York are trained to traverse public transport safely, said Michelle Brier, a spokeswoman for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a New York organization that trains guide dogs.

"We do a lot of work training the dog to have an aversion to the platform and to bring their handler away toward the wall," she said. "If the handler is walking too close to the edge of the platform, the dog would pull the handler away."

She said that while in general dogs were trained to obey their handlers' commands, they were also taught "intelligent disobedience" and would ignore a command if it put the handler in danger.

Still, episodes in the subway like Mr. Williams's do occur.

A year ago, Jeff Golub, a jazz guitarist based in New York who is blind, accidentally walked off the edge of a subway platform before his guide dog could react. He was dragged about 10 feet down the platform by his leg when a train arrived, he said.

Unlike Orlando, Mr. Golub's dog did not follow his master onto the rail bed.

"People tend to think that the guide dogs are magical," Mr. Golub said by telephone. "They are not. You have to tell them where to go."

Gifts Enable Blind Man Who Survived Subway Fall to Keep Aging Guide Dog

For over seven years, Cecil Williams and his guide dog, Orlando, have been inseparable companions, the dog leading his master onto buses and subway cars and through the everyday flood of pedestrians along the streets of New York.

When Mr. Williams, who is blind, fell with Orlando onto the track bed at a Harlem subway station on Tuesday morning, the dog stayed with him, even as an uptown express train rumbled into the station and over them.

Both had only minor injuries, and Mr. Williams, 60, later credited the dog with helping to save his life. But with Orlando scheduled to retire from service next month, Mr. Williams worried he would be unable to afford to keep him without insurance subsidies.

On Wednesday, Mr. Williams learned that he and Orlando, an 11-year-old black Labrador, will be able to remain together indefinitely.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a Westchester County organization that trained Orlando, announced that it had received enough donations for Mr. Williams to afford to keep his dog as a pet after he retires.

Choking back tears with Orlando lying by his wheelchair, Mr. Williams called the news a "blessing" and a "miracle."

"The spirit of giving, Christmas and all of that, exists - it's in New York," he said in a news conference at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, where he is convalescing. "I think it's a time to rejoice."

Mr. Williams and Orlando were paired in August 2006, in part because both preferred to walk at a rapid New York pace, said Michelle Brier, a spokeswoman for Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

But it was their docile, laid-back personalities that seemed to seal the bond between them.

"He's a gentleman; he's a gentle soul," Mr. Williams said. "Me and him are similar that way."

As the two traversed the city's streets, Orlando's job was to guide and protect, and he would typically cut in front of Mr. Williams before he could step into traffic or off a ledge, Mr. Williams said.

The two companions were waiting at the 125th Street subway station at St. Nicholas Avenue in Harlem when Mr. Williams, who is diabetic, felt faint. When he began to fall, he said, Orlando tried to tug him back from the ledge.

Both fell into the track bed and managed to escape being crushed by a train by crouching in the trench between the rails.

Orlando, whose black fur has started to turn somewhat gray around his mouth, has shown signs of slowing down in the last few months, his trainer, Jessy DiNapoli, said. Guide dogs typically work until they are 8 to 10 years old, though they frequently serve beyond that, Ms. Brier said.

Mr. Williams is scheduled to be released from the hospital on Thursday, and in a few weeks he will meet his new guide dog.

Orlando, meanwhile, now has a new challenge: learning how to be a pet.

"He's a senior citizen," Mr. Williams said. "He's looking forward to enjoying life now."

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