The American Red Cross engages a wide range of volunteers from students to retirees, and sometimes even furry friends like Brinkley. For seven years, Brinkley, a golden retriever therapy dog, has served alongside his owners on Red Cross relief operations, providing comfort and care to those affected by emergencies.
In the face of tragedy, somehow it is often a loving companion like Brinkley that helps bring back a smile. The way he nudges a hand or curls up beside a person to let him or her know they are not alone gives comfort amid distress.
At one and half years old, Brinkley was certified as a HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response (AACR) canine back in July 2005. Not long after, HOPE AACR dog/handler teams were invited by the Red Cross to come to Baton Rouge and New Orleans to help comfort those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Brinkley and his owners, Bill and Deborah Hatherley, spent two weeks providing emotional support to residents in need as well as Red Cross volunteers.
Then in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007, the Red Cross invited HOPE AACR to provide their special support on campus. Brinkley, Bill and Debbie spent five days on campus working alongside the Red Cross mental health volunteers. They visited the student center, the volunteer rescue squad, and even the classrooms after classes reconvened. Students visiting with Brinkley would begin talking about their experience, feeling safe to share their pain with the quiet companionship of Brinkley before others. Owners Deb and Bill could then refer individuals to the Red Cross mental health volunteers.
“Brinkley has devoted his life to providing emotional support. He is a sensitive and intuitive dog that seems to know who needs a warm hug. I let him guide me to those who need him most,” said owner Deb Hatherley. “I am always amazed at the way Brinkley is able to provide unconditional love and how he provides a sense of normalcy.”
Since Brinkley’s first emergency relief operations, he and his owners have gone on to volunteer during numerous disaster responses. They have visited Winston Salem, North Carolina after a major apartment fire. They have provided comfort to shelter residents in Atlanta, Georgia after the September 2009 floods where children took Brinkley for walks, drew pictures for him and read to him. Brinkley and his owners also joined the Red Cross response in Duluth, Georgia after a tornado hit the community bringing love and hope. And in April 2011, they visited Dade County, Georgia in the aftermath of the spring tornadoes, journeying to a Disaster Recovery Center and elementary school, soothing those who had lost so much and supporting volunteers who needed encouragement.
Brinkley, now almost nine years old, has been a faithful volunteer for the Red Cross, in addition to his every day therapy dog duties. He and his owners have been there for many to help ease heavy burdens in the stressful aftermath of disaster. The Red Cross is grateful to all its volunteers who put its lifesaving mission into action every day in communities across the country.
Today, the Red Cross sends a heartfelt thank you to its furry volunteers that have meant so much to families and individuals in need of that special kind of love that only friends like Brinkley can deliver.