An online fundraising campaign has raised enough money to allow a New York City man and his soon-to-retire guide dog to stay together.
The pair came to public attention earlier this week in dramatic fashion, after a near-miss with a subway train. When Cecil Williams lost consciousness and fell off a subway platform and onto the tracks, his seeing-eye dog, Orlando, jumped after his owner, according to Associated Press reports. A northbound A-train rumbled toward the pair on the tracks of the 125th Street station, and both man and dog ducked, as the first two cars went over them before coming to a halt.
“The dog was sitting right in front of him [Mr. Williams], kind of like he was guarding him,” said Larmont Smith, a 15-year Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) veteran who was working at the station Tuesday morning and who saw the incident. “I give that dog a lot of credit,” Mr. Smith told the New York Daily News. “It was incredible. Normally an animal, or another human being, would run. That dog stayed right there.”
As it turned out, Williams and Orlando were spending their last days together. Orlando, a black Labrador, is nearly 11 and is slated to retire as a service dog at the end of December, and Williams felt he could not responsibly afford to keep Orlando as a pet.
Enter a good Samaritan, Mark Jacobson of Washington, D.C., who saw news coverage of Williams' and Orlando's brush with the A-train. He started a donation page on the online fundraising site GoFundMe, The Daily Beast reported. The "Help Cecil Williams & Orlando the Lab" page has raised more than $38,000 for the pair.
Another online fundraising website, Indiegogo, raised at least $67,500 through a page called "Help Cecil Williams keep his seeing eye dog Orlando," created by another petitioner.
As a result, Williams will receive a new seeing-eye dog when Orlando retires, but he now will also be able to keep his four-legged companion of eight years as a pet.
Especially after Orlando jumped down onto the tracks after him, Williams told The Daily Beast, it seemed unthinkable that they might part. “He stayed down there with me, he was licking my face,” Williams said. “He was there for me.”
Guiding Eyes for the Blind, the organization that trains service dogs and first gave Orlando to Williams, provides the dogs for free, but it cannot cover retired dogs' expenses. Williams will receive a new working dog early next year, spokeswoman Michelle Brier told the AP.
Any extra money will go to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, according to the GoFundMe.com page.
"I'm not a crybaby or nothing. But my eyes are misty and I'm tearing right now because things like this here don't happen for everybody," Williams said at the hospital where he was being treated for minor injuries after the fall. "They should happen. We should care about one another. We should do for one another. But it's not always that way."
"The spirit of giving, Christmas ... exists in New York," he told the AP on Wednesday.
The fact that both man and dog escaped serious injury was hailed as a "miracle" by New York Fire Department Capt. Danny O'Sullivan.
This year in New York City, 144 riders have been hit by subway trains, and 52 of them have died, according to the MTA.
The MTA is about to start testing "intrusion detection" systems that alert train operators when someone is on the tracks, the Daily News reports.