MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS — A blind man and his guide dog who were both nearly killed by a subway train in Harlem on Tuesday will stay together thanks to more than $83,000 in donations that have flooded in from across the country.
"In the spirit of giving, Christmas and all that, it exists here. It's in New York," Cecil Williams, 60, of Brooklyn said in response to the flood of money that poured in after his accident Tuesday morning. Williams had been worried that he wouldn't be able to afford to keep Orlando, who turns 11 years old next month and will have to retire from service, once his health insurance no longer pays for the Black Labrador's care.
Williams could have been crushed to death Monday when fainted on the uptown platform of the 125th Street station with his 10-year-old guide dog, Orlando, and toppled onto the tracks as an A train pulled into the station, officials said. Both Williams and Orlando survived by laying down in the trench between the subway tracks as one and a half train cars passed over them.
Williams shared his fears about splitting up with Orlando in a hospital interview with the Associated Press Tuesday. In response, several people around the country launched online fundraisers including an Indiegogo campaign by Grant Kirsh who raised over $55,000 and counting on Wednesday, according to the site.
"First of all, I want to thank you to everybody for showing their humanity, peace and goodwill," Williams said at a press conference at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital where he was recuperating from a minor head injury.
A GoFundMe site created by Mark Jacobson raised over $28,000 by the same time, the site showed. That fund is still growing as well.
Jacobson, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, said on the site that he was working through the organization Guiding Eyes, which trained Orlando and other guide dogs, to get in touch with Williams.
Meanwhile, the blind man, who lost his vision in 1995, told reporters Wednesday afternoon that the dog had tried to prevent the accident.
"He was trying to pull me back," Williams said. "I guess I fell over and he fell over with me. When we fell over, he stayed down there with me. He was there for me."
Williams, who should be released from the hospital Thursday, said that medication that he's on reacted with the insulin he takes to cause the fainting spell.
"I'm diabetic too, so my sugar got irregular. And I was also taking some medication that also causes complications. So my blood pressure and sugar was going up and down, and I guess it got too high and I passed out," he said.
Jessy DiNapoli, Orlando's trainer from Manhattan training center Guiding Eyes for the Blind, said that the Labrador had been showing signs of slowing down and, at 11, will have exceeded the usual age of retirement by a year.
"Most dogs in the guide-dog world tend to give little signs when they're ready to retire," she said. "So Orlando tends to work at a quicker pace, but in the last few months he's really started to slow down and not be excited about working, which is usually an indicator."
Williams said that Orlando has been a dutiful companion of his for the last eight years and deserves his retirement. He plans to get another guide dog first.
"When I get the other dog, [Orlando] will retire and be a pet," Williams said. "He's done work for eight years straight, taking me to New York, Brooklyn, Manhattan Queens, everywhere. So for him, it's time to retire. He's about 77 years old. He's a senior citizen. He's looking forward to enjoying life now."