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Therapy Dog Brings Calm After Disasters

American Red Cross Bay Area - Therapy Dog
“It was a remarkable experience. We made some great new friends. "There were two little girls who just glued themselves to Annie.” - Jeannie Eagen

Over the weekend of July 6, the American Red Cross responded to two major disasters in San Mateo County. First, the Asiana Airlines incident occurred at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO), affecting more than 300 people.

Then, about 15 hours later and within 16 miles of SFO, a six-alarm apartment fire destroyed a Redwood City apartment complex displacing 97 residents.

The Red Cross workforce quickly mobilized disaster workers to respond to each incident. This primarily volunteer workforce came from throughout the Greater Bay Area as well as Sonoma, Central Valley, Greater Los Angeles, Claremont, Greater Rochester, Kern, and Logan Chapters.

Nearly one dozen partner agencies collaborated with the Red Cross on both disasters, including Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, a nonprofit providing comfort through the presence of therapy dogs. Jeannie Eagen and her therapy dog, Annie, first visited individuals displaced by the fire at a Red Cross shelter located at the National Guard Armory in Redwood City. Jeannie says the seven-year-old Newfoundland has a talent for knowing who needs special attention following a disaster.

“It was a remarkable experience,” Jeannie said. “We made some great new friends. There were two little girls who just glued themselves to Annie.”

The girls gave Annie a “makeover” complete with sparkly stickers and took Annie for walks. Jeannie said the bond was so strong that Annie calmed the children so they could fall asleep. Annie provided love and support to Red Cross volunteers as well as those directly affected by the disasters. She stopped by the Bay Area Chapter’s San Mateo County Office in Burlingame, which became the response headquarters for both incidents.

The staff, including Colleen Sasso, the Disaster Health Services Manager for the Asiana response, appreciated Annie’s presence.

“We had been working 12-hour shifts and we were all exhausted,” said Colleen, a registered nurse and Red Cross volunteer of four and a half years. “[The visit] was very calming and peaceful and broke the hectic routine we had been on.”

Jeannie hopes to work with the Red Cross again in the future.

“I’m in awe of what the Red Cross does, it was wonderful to be a part of their efforts,” she said.