July 12, 2011 06:30 PM

Roselle, a yellow Labrador, became the nation’s most famous guide dog after leading her owner down 78 floors in the World Trade Center’s Tower One just moments before the building collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly 10 years later, Roselle has died.

“I wouldn’t be alive today if it weren’t for Roselle,” says Roselle’s owner Michael Hingson.

Roselle was asleep under Hingson’s desk on that fateful morning as the sales manager busied himself for an upcoming seminar. Moments after an American Airlines jet slammed into the upper floors of the building and smoke began billowing from the side, Hingson, Roselle and a group of co-workers from his office began the long, arduous trek down to the street below.

As fumes from the jet’s obliterated fuel tank began to fill the stairwell, Hingson clutched Roselle’s leash, gently urging her on while firefighters rushed past them in the opposite direction. “The two of us had a very interdependent relationship,” Hingson recalls. “She kept me as calm as I kept her. I just kept encouraging her.”

But Roselle’s real strength became evident once they reached the ground, just minutes before Tower Two came crashing down, blanketing the area in dense plumes of noxious dust. Hingson scrambled to get out of the area while debris rained down on their heads. “If I hadn’t had Roselle and had to depend on a cane, I would have been much more vulnerable in the chaos and panic,” he says. “But she was guiding me and I was pushing her. It was real teamwork.”

Following 9/11, Hingson began making regular appearances with Roselle on talk shows. The two even rode on a float in the 2002 Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. Over the years, they traveled hundreds of thousands of miles speaking to audiences about trust, teamwork, guide dogs and blindness.

Roselle, who was 13, died from an auto-immune disorder on June 26, surrounded by Hingson, his wife Karen and several friends near their home outside of San Francisco.

“She was an amazing dog who taught me a lot about patience and unconditional love,” says Hingson. “And when I remember how she behaved on that morning in 2001, I think the most powerful thing she taught me was that working together is the most powerful thing we can do.”

To read more about Roselle, check out Hingson’s new book, Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog and The Triumph of Trust At Ground Zero, due out Aug. 2.

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