As an experienced guide dog, Orlando is always ready to assist his blind owner with anything. But this Tuesday, the black Labrador Retriever nearly gave his life after his owner, 61-year-old Cecil Williams, lost consciousness while the pair was waiting on a Manhattan subway platform.
Williams and Orlando were on their way to a dentist appointment around 9:30 a.m. December 17 when Williams suddenly felt faint.
Witnesses later explained that as Williams became unsteady on his feet, Orlando tried to brace his owner to keep him from falling. Orlando even tried to tug on Williams to keep him from tumbling to the tracks below. But when Williams started to stumble, Orlando barked frantically.
“He was just walking toward the yellow line and all of a sudden we heard him say, ‘Oh no!’ and slip and fall onto the tracks,” remembers witness Ashley Prenza. “Everyone started scattering to find someone to help him. Someone ran upstairs to find [a Metropolitan Transit Authority] employee, and others were looking to see if any trains were approaching,” she tells Gothamist.
An approaching roar and a flash of light let everyone know a train was in fact nearing the platform. As Williams fell to the train tracks, his selfless guide dog jumped down behind him, trying desperately to save his person. Though his own life was on the line, the brave Lab continued to try and rouse Williams as the train barreled towards them.
“He went down, and the dog jumped down,” witness Matthew Martin tells the New York Post. “He wasn’t pulled. He was kissing him, trying to get him to move.”
Williams started to come to, witnesses cried out from the platform above, and the train operator slammed on the brakes. But the train was coming too fast, and a transit flagman yelled for the dazed man and dog to duck in the trench. Williams put his head down, and Orlando did the same just as the lead car passed over them both. By the time the train finally screeched to a halt, one and a half train cars had passed over Williams and Orlando.
“Everyone turned away at that point because we couldn’t bear to look,” Penza says.
Miraculously, as firefighters pulled Williams from beneath the train, it became clear the man only suffered minor cuts and bruises.
“I’m feeling amazed,” Williams says from his hospital bed. “I feel that God, the powers that be, have something in store for me. They didn’t take me away this time. I’m here for a reason.”
And as for Orlando, who was uninjured in the incident, Williams can barely hold back the tears of gratitude and love he feels for his dog.
“He tried to hold me up,” an emotional Williams tells the Associated Press of loyal Orlando.
Williams became blind almost 20 years ago after contracting a severe case of meningitis. Orlando is Williams’ second service dog and clearly his best friend.
Those who were there on the platform that day are amazed by Orlando’s bravery and unwavering faithfulness in the face of such danger.
Larmont Smith, the transit flagman, knows that if it weren’t for Orlando’s actions, Williams likely wouldn’t have made it off of those tracks alive.
“I give that dog a lot of credit,” Smith tells the New York Daily News. “It was incredible. Normal an animal, or another human being, would run. That dog stayed right there.”
“He was definitely this man’s best friend,” another witness, Ana Quinones, says of Orlando. “When the train was coming, the dog didn’t move. The dog was loyal to his master. He tried to save him. He was trying to pull him away when he was too close to the edge. He risked his own life to save his owner.”
Hero Orlando is almost 11-years-old, nearing retirement age. While Cecil Williams’ medical insurance will cover the cost of a new guide dog, it will not pay for him to keep Orlando after the loyal Lab retires. Though it breaks his heart, Williams says he will not be able to keep Orlando.
If he had the money, Williams says, “I would definitely keep him.”
According to TODAY.com, people are taking to social media outlets in droves hoping to figure out a way to help Cecil Williams and Orlando stay together.
“My family and I would love to skip purchasing presents for Xmas and donate the money to Cecil. This man needs to keep his furry four legged family member!!!!” commenter Kristin Davies posts on the TODAY Show’s Facebook page.
“He will need a younger guide dog, so there needs to be funding to help him keep his old buddy and be able to have fresh, young eyes helping him out, as well,” says another commenter, LeNore A. Ralston. “I’m sure someone can pull this off!”
“Maybe Ellen is following this story???” Ralston adds, hoping perhaps comedienne, popular talk show host, and fellow animal lover Ellen DeGeneres might do something to help Williams and Orlando.
While a donation drive for Cecil Williams and his hero dog Orlando has yet to be established, DogTime.com will be sure to keep you posted.