By Kelly Huegel
Miracle On 125th StreetFor nearly eight years, guide dog Orlando, a Labrador retriever, led Cecil Williams all over New York. Time and again the pair navigated the city’s bustling subway system without incident. But one day in early December, as he waited on the platform at 125th Street Station in Harlem, Williams, a 61-year-old diabetic, began to feel faint. As he became increasingly unsteady, Orlando tried to alert him, encouraging him to move back from the edge of the platform. “I lost consciousness, and he was trying to pull me back,” Williams later told NBC’s Todayshow.
In spite of the dog’s efforts, Williams tumbled onto the tracks below, taking Orlando with him. The faithful canine tried to wake his friend, urgently licking and nudging as an A train lumbered towards them. Transit flagman Larmont Smith yelled to Williams, who roused enough to hear Smith’s instructions to stay between the rails. Grabbing Orlando and holding him close, Williams shrank down just as the train roared over them.
Though they were banged up from the fall, miraculously, neither Williams nor Orlando suffered serious injuries. Staff at St. Luke’s Hospital, where the pair was taken after the incident, persuaded the NYPD to allow the dog to stay while Williams was being treated. “At one point, the dog was even on the bed with him,” a hospital spokesperson recalled.
Their ordeal wasn’t over, though. Williams, who was paired with Orlando through Guiding Eyes for the Blind, had reached a heartbreaking crossroads with his “best buddy.” Orlando turned 11 in January and was set to retire, and Williams’ couldn’t afford to keep Orlando as a pet alone. Though he would receive a new, younger, guide dog, Williams was faced with losing his old pal.
But the miracles kept on coming. Moved by media coverage of the story, fellow dog lover and trucking company owner Andrew Piera of New Jersey stepped forward, vowing to cover all of Orlando’s expenses indefinitely so the two could stay together. “He’s worked hard all his life, and now he should be covered with hugs and kisses and tummy rubs,” Piera told the New York Daily News. Word then came that New York City’s Animal Medical Center had offered to provide free medical care for Orlando for the rest of his days. For Williams and his remarkable friend, it’s a wonderful life, indeed.
TSA, Meet WAGOne of the nation’s largest transit centers has become a battleground, where an army of furry soldiers is waging war on the blues. The San Francisco International Airport (SFO) recently announced the Wag Brigade, a new initiative designed to make flying a little friendlier.
As part of the program, specially trained canines, along with their faithful handlers, roam the airport, comforting weary travelers. “The passengers are loving having them around,” said Jennifer Emmert, animal assisted therapy manager at the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SF SPCA), which operates the program. Currently, the SF SPCA has 10 volunteer teams—each comprised of one or two animals and a handler—dedicated to the Wag Brigade. The teams canvass each of the airport’s four terminals, spreading smiles and lowering stress levels.
The Wag Brigade was initiated by the SFO, based largely on the success of the Pets Unstressing Passengers (PUPs) program at Los Angeles International Airport. The SF SPCA was happy to oblige, leveraging the resources of its robust animal-assisted therapy program. All of the dogs currently participating are graduates of the program, and Emmert says they are looking to add a feline team to the airport detail, as well. In terms of which recruits make the cut, she says, “We’re basically looking for pets who are as predictable as possible in unpredictable circumstances.” Because of their role as ambassadors for the SF SPCA, all Wag Brigade pets must also be spayed or neutered.
Returned—to Find His Destiny
Therapy dogs are trained to provide comfort and affection. As a puppy, little Sambro didn’t get much of either. An outcast among his littermates, the yellow Lab was even returned within hours by the first family to adopt him. But in retrospect, New York’s Dennis Nelson, owner of Sambro’s parents, is relieved that family returned the pup; otherwise, he might never have found his heartwarming vocation.
Nelson saw an ad for therapy dogs in the paper and, considering Sambro’s warm and friendly nature, decided to pursue special training. Sambro’s path took him to Staten Island University Hospital, where he worked as a hospice therapy dog for 12 years, until his retirement this past December. There, the unlikely counselor provided silent support for patients and families enduring some of life’s most challenging circumstances.
Although Sambro passed his hospice collar to Gigi, a black poodle, he may never retire completely. Each year, Nelson and Sambro visit the National September 11 Memorial in Manhattan, where the special pooch gently rests his head on the laps of those who need company.
Moby-lizing for Shelter Animals
For weeks in advance, electronic dance music legend Moby hyped the release of a new video he described as, “The best music video ever made. Ever. In the history of ever.” We can’t vouch for that—but it certainly made some lucky shelter pets happy.
The lyric video for his song “Almost Home” dropped on Moby’s YouTube channel Dec. 19. It features the well-known animal rights activist and vegan holding up lyric cards next to a menagerie of adorable and adoptable dogs and cats, some of whom give the artist thank-you kisses on his trademark bald pate. Shot on location at the Best Friends Animal Society’s adoption center in Los Angeles, the video closes with a simple fade to black and the words, “Find your next friend at your local animal shelter. Adopt today.”
Read the rest of this issue from Animal Sheltering magazine