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Man and Guide Dog Fall in NYC Subway
Their story uncovers the many challenges of having a service dog

UPDATE: Orlando will be staying with Cecil! Andrew Piera, a New Jersey businessman and dog lover, volunteered to pay for all of Orlando's expenses for the rest of his life. I've also heard that Orlando's puppy raiser is willing to adopt the Labrador if having two dogs in Orlando's apartment doesn't work out.

Cecil, who is still recovering at St. Luke's Hospital, urges those moved by his story to give directly to Guiding Dogs for the Blind, the organization that paired him with Orlando. "There are other people out there with disabilities and they need dogs, do if you can find it in your heart, you can send a donation to Guiding Eyes."

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Yesterday Cecil Williams and his guide dog, Orlando, fell onto a New York City subway track just as a train was pulling into the station. The 61-year old man was on his way to a dentist appointment when he fainted on the platform. Orlando tried to hold Cecil back, but they both ended up going over onto the track.  

Fellow passengers alerted the oncoming train, but the conductor couldn't immediately stop. Fortunately a transit worker instructed Cecil to lie down in the trough between the rails and miraculously both Cecil and Orlando survived even though they ended up under the train. Orlando stood by Cecil through the entire ordeal, even when both of their lives were in danger.

Cecil has been blind since 1995 and Orlando is his second guide dog. The Labrador will be 11 on January 5th and will be retiring soon. Cecil has said that he will be unable to keep Orlando once he retires because his health insurance will not cover the cost of a non-working dog. His story has brought up two interesting issues relating to service dogs--financing guide dog care and rehoming pups when they retire.

Fellow Bark writer and guide dog user, Beth Finke (who actually blogged years ago about her fear of navigating the subways), explains that although seeing eye dog schools cover the cost of the dog and training, the recipient is responsible for the the cost of ongoing care, such as food and veterinary bills. Health insurance doesn't cover these expenses, so Cecil may be referring to his social security disability, a fixed income which will not support two guide dogs.

Beth notes that "some people who'd like a guide dog opt to use a white cane instead because they know that they don't have the money to keep the dog fed and healthy."

After writing about the funding guide dog organizations require to provide trained dogs free of charge, I didn't realize that many people are still unable to afford one because of the ongoing care costs.

Steve Kuusisto, who also has a guide dog, says that in addition to financial limitations, not being able to keep Orlando may also have to do with Cecil's lifestyle. "For instance, if Cecil lives alone, leaving the retired guide dog alone while he goes out with the new one isn't so easy." I've also been told that since seeing eye dogs are generally raised alone, they may have trouble adjusting to living with a second dog, especially since they are used to working exclusively with their person.

Steve notes that guide dog schools have amazing resources for placing retired dogs with new families. However, it's not easy to give up an animal you have a very special relationship with.  

When I first read about Cecil and Orlando, I couldn't believe that the two would be separated due to the Labrador's retirement. But this is the norm for service dogs and I can see how financial and lifestyle considerations would prevent people from keeping their past pups. However, it's heartbreaking to think about being separated from any one of my dogs, let alone one I relied on for my freedom.

If you're interested in helping Cecil, an indiegogo online fundraiser has been started to allow him to keep Orlando. The fund has already raised over $50,000.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by John Minchillo/AP.

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