Locally trained dog heroic at World Trade Center

ANTA BARBARA, CA -- When people give the heroes of the World Trade Center their due, they may not know about the extraordinary feats of a short blonde from Montecito.

But it was thanks to Roselle, a yellow Labrador retriever trained in Montecito, that a blind sales manager was able to escape the 78th floor and walk away from disaster. The couple who helped train her are very proud of their pup.

''She is just a steady girl,'' Ted Stern said Saturday, four days after the disaster.

''She was the most loved member of our family,'' agreed Kay Stern, who with her husband has taken in her fourth dog for training—this time for people with other types of disabilities. ''My life's work right now is to love and let go.''

When the Sterns saw the Trade Center collapse on national television broadcasts, they remembered that Roselle went there every day.

Roselle's companion, Michael Hingson of New Jersey, was at his desk in the first tower when it was struck. Roselle woke up from her nap nearby and the pair snapped into action, calming panicked people along the way and enduring a cloud of debris and smoke from burning jet fuel. Another manager for the same computer hardware company, Quantum ATL, followed behind.

Mr. Hingson is a religious man and thanks God for his dog and for getting out of the building before it collapsed.

''I was led to turn in certain places, and the fact that the dog was right where it was supposed to be, I don't think that was coincidence,'' he said in a telephone interview. ''It was not coincidence that I got this dog.''

Roselle is ''like a teen-ager'' and loves to play when her harness is taken off, signaling the end of her shift. But she's so focused while on the job that the 3-year-old didn't hesitate during Tuesday's ordeal. Not during her exhausting, 78-floor journey to the bottom. And not after they were out on the sidewalk and had to dash away when the second tower collapsed, sending debris flying like shrapnel.

Like other successful guide dogs, Roselle is a combination of good breeding and good training. The Sterns gave Roselle her first 10 months of basic training after they took her into their home as a 4-month-old pup. They instilled manners through obedience lessons and acclimated her to as many situations as possible. They worked on the first level of training in their home, which is followed by about six months of formal work with a professional handler.

''This dog went everywhere in Santa Barbara. She went to the movies. She went to the music academy. That was our job, to take the dog through all situations,'' said Mr. Stern.

''I remember one of the first plays we took her to. There was gunfire. She just kind of perked up a bit and said 'Well, what's that?''' said Mrs. Stern.

In her training cape, Roselle got to be a recognizable figure in downtown Santa Barbara and in Montecito, where she participated in the Fourth of July parade and Montecito Beautification Day.

The Sterns say they are grateful that almost all businesses willingly accepted the dog, which can be barred legally until it is working officially as a guide dog. They volunteered in the program through Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc. of San Rafael and the local support group Santa Barbara County Sightseers.

''Lots of people in Santa Barbara knew that dog,'' she said. ''They'd say 'Wasn't your dog on State Street yesterday?'''

But perhaps the best lesson the puppy got was her trip to New York when the Sterns visited their apartment in the city.

''We thought it would be a good experience for her, and frankly we thought it would be fun to watch her experience it,'' said Mr. Stern. ''She seemed to enjoy walking the streets of New York, the slushy sidewalks and the metal grates. We introduced her to the crush of people and New York and the taxis.

''We suspect that may have helped with the match with Mr. Hingson.''

There is perhaps one place in Santa Barbara, however, where they won't miss Roselle since she's become an East Coast lab: Sunday morning services at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, where Roselle drove the minister to distraction.

''She didn't snore very often, but she chose to do it during the sermon,'' Mr. Stern said.