NEW YORK – Enough donations have been raised to allow a blind man to keep the aging guide dog that went onto the subway tracks with him when the man lost consciousness and fell from a station platform, officials say.
"The spirit of giving, Christmas ... exists in New York," a tearful Cecil Williams said Wednesday, calling the outpouring of money and good will a "miracle."
"It's a time to rejoice," Williams said.
Michelle Brier, a spokeswoman for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, which provides working dogs for free but cannot cover retired dogs' expenses, said Thursday that "as of right now," Williams plans to keep Orlando as a pet after Orlando retires and Williams gets a new working dog early next year.
Brier added that "it's an emotional time" and the organization will support whatever path he ultimately takes. The family that raised Orlando has said it would be thrilled to take in Orlando if Williams is unable to care for two dogs.
"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. "They should happen. We should care about one another. We should do for one another. But it's not always that way."
Williams expressed gratitude to all of the people involved in his rescue and those who donated money to help him keep his "best buddy."
"I'd like to say thank you but I'm trying to look for some more words to describe how I really feel," he said.
He urged the public to support other disabled people who need guide dogs. Guiding Eyes said any leftover donations would be used for that purpose.
Williams, 61, and Orlando both escaped serious injury Tuesday when they were bumped by a train passing over them — a miraculous end to a harrowing ordeal that began when Williams felt faint on his way to the dentist.
Witnesses said Orlando barked frantically and tried to stop Williams from tumbling off the platform. Matthew Martin told the New York Post that Orlando leaped onto the tracks as the train approached and licked Williams to entice him to move.
Williams doesn't remember much about the incident because he lost consciousness. He recalls that Orlando tried to brace him against the fall and thinks momentum may have propelled the harnessed dog onto the tracks with him.
"He stayed with me. He was licking my face," Williams said. "He's a very gentle gentleman."