Guide Dog Leads Man to Safety After Quake

Pair weaves through wreckage for three hours after Christchurch earthquake
By Beth Finke, March 2011

Blair McConnell had the bad fortune to be at work in Christchurch on February 22, 2011, when the earthquake hit. His luck changed when he dove under his office desk. His guide dog Kiwi was there waiting to help him. A story in New Zealand’s Sunday Star Times describes noble guide dog Kiwi leading McConnell through fallen masonry and concrete to safety. “I grabbed his harness and he was quite keen to get out,” said the Telecom sales rep.

“We had got out of the building and into the middle of Hereford Street with hundreds of others when the second big aftershock hit. There was lots of screaming and hysterical people.” Stories are flying around New Zealand about Kiwi walking his blind companion all the way home, and McConnell is quick to dispel those rumors. The 8-year-old curly-haired Labrador/Retriever cross did stay calm, McConnell says. And it’s true the beloved guide dog threaded McConnell through the carnage and rubble along the banks of the city’s Avon River for three long hours. In the end, though, a stranger stopped to give the pair a ride home, which has left McConnell feeling “a bit of a fraud,” knowing he got a ride, but: “I’m quite sure he would have walked me home that day if he had needed to.”
I don’t doubt that for one minute. One of the many, many reasons dogs have been selected to guide people who are blind is that strong canine homing instinct. My new Seeing Eye dog Harper has only been home with me for three months, and it’s amazing how good he already is at retracing his steps home and finding known destinations. I’m confident he’d find our way home in a crisis, I just hope I never have to find that out!
And PS: If someone offered Harper me a ride after an earthquake, I’d take it.


Beth Finke's book, Hanni and Beth: Safe & Sound—about her bond with her Seeing Eye dog—won an ASPCA/Henry Bergh children's book award. Follow Hanni and Beth's travels on the Safe & Sound blog.