Thunder Dog Discussion Questions
Preface & Introduction Questions
- Were you aware of the prevalence of blindness among premature babies born around the 1950s? What was your initial reaction when you learned that many cases of blindness could have been prevented?
- Have you ever interacted with a blind person? Did you gain any insight from that experience?
- Why do you think the book’s introduction relates the story of Michael and Roselle in a thunderstorm? How do you think this will relate to the rest of the book?
- Why have you chosen to read Thunder Dog? What do you hope to gain from it?
- Having read the Preface and Introduction, what part of Michael and Roselle’s story are you most intrigued or excited about learning?
Chapter 1: 1463 Stairs (p 19)
- Recall the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. What were you doing that day? Do you remember your reaction when you heard about the attack? Did you know anyone affected by the attack?
- Had you ever visited the World Trade Center before its destruction?
- Did you learn anything new about the World Trade Center or the terrorist attack by reading this chapter?
- How does Michael’s relationship with Roselle help him to remain calm while others around him are panicking?
- Before Michael and David evacuate, they escort their guests to the stairs and attempt to properly close the office. What does this indicate about their work ethic and their concern for others? Do you think most people would react the same way in this situation? Do you think they acted wisely?
Chapter 2: My Other Soul Mate (p 28)
- Michael frequently refers to his relationship with Roselle as that of a team: they must work together. How might knowing how to effectively work in a team shape Michael’s interaction with others?
- In what ways was meeting Sharon and her guide dog Nola a life-changing event for Michael?
- Michael’s parents decided to mainstream Michael by sending him to a regular school instead of a school for the blind. What did Michael gain by being mainstreamed? What did he miss out on? What do you think parents consider when making the decision whether or not to mainstream their child?
- What do the two sides of Roselle’s personality—her calmness while working and spunkiness when playing—indicate about the effectiveness of her training as a guide dog? Do you think seeing Roselle’s transformation under the harness helped Michael trust her more?
- Michael mentions the stereotypes that are associated with the white cane sometimes used by blind people. What comes to mind when you see a blind person with a cane? A guide dog? Does reading Michael’s story impact your previous impressions?
Chapter 3: Hearing the Coffee Table (p 44)
- Despite advice they received, Michael’s parents were determined to treat Michael just as they would treat a child who was not blind. How did his parents’ resolve to treat Michael normally help him adapt?
- Michael notes that blind people do not automatically have heightened senses of smell, hearing or touching, but that these senses must be developed as with any other person. What, then, do Michael’s talents, such as riding a bike using echolocation, tell us about the power of the human body to adapt to and overcome challenges?
- Did you learn anything new in this chapter about how blind people live? What impressed you the most?
- Michael writes, “I have always felt that every life experience helps us prepare for what is to follow.” This is evident in Michael’s story when his keen senses help him decode the situation in the World Trade Center. Have you noticed in your own life that previous experiences prepared you for what was to follow?
- Not only were Michael’s senses helpful in helping him decode the situation in the World Trade Center, but his acute attention to detail helps the reader see a fuller picture of what he was going through. What details stood out to you when you read this chapter and how did they enhance the story?
Chapter 4: Kicked Off the Bus (p 60)
- Michael, Roselle and the others descending the stairwell had no idea what was going on in their own tower or the tower next to them. Do you think they would have behaved differently had they known the full extent of the damage?
- When a woman making her way down the stairwell begins to panic, the others around her calm her down and help her continue moving forward. How does adversity draw people—even strangers— together to work as a team? Have you ever witnessed this in your own life?
- Michael recalls Mr. Herbo, one of the teachers that had a great impact on his life. In what ways did Mr. Herbo have a positive influence on Michael’s life? Can you recall a teacher who made a difference in your life?
- What do you think of the incident where Michael’s dad, who only had an 8th grade education, researched the law and contacted the governor so Michael would be allowed to ride the school bus? What does this say about a father’s love for his son?
- Why do you think Michael is anxious that the lights in the stairwell will go out when he can’t see anyway?
Chapter 5: Driving in the Dark (p 75)
- During the descent down the stairs, how is Michael’s blindness an asset to him and those around him?
- Michael’s attitude about his blindness is admirable: he harbors no self-pity and moves forward just as if he had sight. What affect does this positive attitude have on other aspects of Michael’s life? If Michael wallowed in self-pity, what might he miss out on in life?
- How does humor help defuse a stressful situation or set people at ease?
- What was your reaction when you read that Michael drove (and even owned) a car? Have you been surprised by the things that Michael is able to do even though he is blind?
- How do you think you would have reacted if you discovered a letter saying you were not competent to do an advanced level of work to get a PhD even though you demonstrated you were? Having seen Michael’s determination in the past few chapters, is it surprising that his reaction is “Why not?”
Chapter 6: Warriors with Guide Dogs (p 90)
- Michael strives to be calm while descending the stairwell so that Roselle will remain calm as well. Have you ever noticed how your emotions can transfer to those around you, whether human or animal? Why do you think emotions are “contagious”?
- Consider dogs’ keen senses of smell, hearing and touch, which are described in this chapter. Did you learn anything new about dogs’ senses?
- After the fireman insists unsuccessfully on helping Michael, Michael observes that blindness is not a handicap but people’s prejudice about blindness is. In what ways do people’s prejudice about blindness handicap Michael? How does he overcome prejudice?
- Consider your attitude toward blindness before reading this book. Has it changed since learning Michael’s story?
- Emerging technology has enabled blind people to experience facets of life previously closed to them, such as reading the mail, working on computers and even flying a plane. Were you aware that blind people have these opportunities available to them? What do you think future technologies will hold for blind people?
Chapter 7: I Forgot You Were Blind (p 104)
- How do the flashbacks to Michael’s past enhance the story and help up better understand the long descent down the stairwell?
- When someone says “I forgot you were blind” to Michael, he knows that person is relating to him as “a multifaceted person, not through the lens of [his] blindness.” What does this tell us about the human desire to be known as we truly are as oppose to being labeled and forced into a category?
- The number of employable blind people who are unemployed is an astounding 70%. What needs to change in order for employers to be more open to employing blind people?
- In what ways is being blind an advantage to Michael in his sales career? Do you think employers would be less hesitant to hire blind people if they realized blindness can be an asset?
- Did you feel a sense of relief when Michael, Roselle and David emerged safely from the stairwell? What do you think is going to happen next?
Chapter 8: Running with Roselle (p 118)
- Michael and Roselle had just endured a slow, painful hour of walking down the tower stairs only to discover chaos when they exited the building. What would be your reaction if you were hoping for rest but forced to run?
- Can you imagine what it would be like to hear and feel the south tower, a massive landmark, falling? What kinds of things would you have been thinking? Does this cause you to reassess the value of things sometimes taken for granted, such as safety, peace or health?
- Can you relate to Michael when he cried out to God, wondering why God saved him from one disaster only to afflict him with another? If so, what happened after you cried out to God?
- What do you think of Michael taking comfort in Psalm 23? Does reading the Psalm in light of Michael’s personal experience cause you to see this familiar Psalm in a new way?
- Michael attributes his survival to the grace of God and prayers of Karen, Cherie and others. What do you think about prayer? Have you ever experienced an answer to prayer?
Chapter 9: We Are Pretty Much Just Like You (p 131)
- In the mayhem following the terrorist attack, Michael helped guide a woman blinded by dust and a subway worker made the employee locker room available to refugees. Explore the idea that adversity draws people to help each other and work as a team.
- Michael, grateful to be alive when so many others have lost their lives, thinks God must have spared him for a reason. This ignites a renewed sense of purpose in his life. Why does tragedy often ignite renewed purpose? Have you ever experience this?
- Before reading this book, did you think it was “okay to be blind”? How has Thunder Dog challenged your ideas of what it is to be a capable human being?
- Were you surprised to learn that blind people can do almost anything that sighted people can, such as climb Mt. Everest or become a doctor?
- Michael received tough love as a young man when his friend told him he was arrogant and needed to learn to relate to other blind people. How did this conversation ultimately benefit Michael? Have you ever seen positive results from someone speaking the truth in love?
Chapter 10: Woman on Wheels (p 146)
- For the first time in the book, the story is told from Karen’s perspective instead of Michael’s perspective. What does hearing the story from Karen’s perspective add to our understanding of the story?
- When Karen was fully introduced in this chapter, did she match the picture of Michael’s wife that you had sketched in your mind?
- Karen endured the agony of not knowing for two hours whether her husband had safely evacuated the World Trade Center. Even though she wasn’t physically present at the attack site, how was her emotional journey similar and different from that of Michael’s during the two hours?
- Imagine the sorrow and devastation Michael feels when he realizes that his tower has crumbled to the ground and thousands of people have perished. How do you think survivors of the World Trade Center attacks processed their flood of emotions and feelings after 9-11? What effect did the events of 9-11 have on you? How did you process the tragedy?
- Consider what Michael writes about Karen and he being one and needing each other. In what ways do you see Karen and Michael complementing and helping each other? Have you ever experienced a Karen and Michael-type relationship?
Chapter 11: A Brush and a Booda Bone (p 161)
- What do you think of the fact that Michael’s company is not able to understand the full extent of how 9-11 affected the work culture in the New York area?
- Do you agree with Billy Graham, as Michael does, that “we may never know why 9/11 happened, but we don’t have to, because God is the sovereign one”?
- Michael writes, “ I will never get tired of telling my story as long as it helps people.” How does Michael’s story help bring light and hope in the wake of a dark tragedy?
- Think about the importance of sharing our experiences with other. How might sharing a story help the teller process an event? What is it about stories that help humans connect?
- Michael realizes that there must be a reason he has been spared from death and chooses to live purposefully: he uses his story of survival to help others. How does having a sense of purpose affect the way people live? Do you think people with purpose are more content with life than those who do not have purpose?
Chapter 12: Shake Off the Dust (p 178)
- Michael faces discrimination on a daily basis, but he chooses to have a good attitude rather than become angry. What can we learn from Michael about the ability to have self-control over our emotions and choose constructive actions rather than destructive actions?
- Michael remarks that since 9-11, neither he nor the United States has ever been the same. What ways have you seen the United States change since 9-11? Have you seen change in any individuals you know? Yourself?
- Have you ever faced discrimination such as Michael faced? How did it make you feel?
- True and full integration, notes Michael, “starts with desire, continues with education, and comes full circle grounded in trust.” Consider your social and work spheres. Where do the people around you fall on this continuum? Do your peers exhibit a desire to integrate with others who may seem different? Are they taking steps to achieve this?
- Can you relate to any of the Guide Dog Wisdom points? Having learned about guide dog Roselle through this book, what Guide Dog Wisdom points would you add?
Chapter 13: It’s All Worth It (p 185)
- Michael lists three reasons he decided he wanted to speak about his story. Do any of the reasons resonate with you?
- Have you experienced tragedy and grief in your life? Have you been able to move forward? What helped you move forward or what is keeping you from moving forward?
- Michael writes, “We can’t let fear paralyze us. We must carry on.” Practically, how do you think one keeps oneself from being paralyzed by fear?
- Has hearing Michael’s story helped you process through the events of 9-11?
- What is the main lesson or piece of understanding you are taking away from reading Thunder Dog? Has reading Thunder Dog changed how you think about certain things? Do you think you will act differently in the future as a result of reading Thunder Dog?
- Would you recommend Thunder Dog to others? Why or why not?