When Barbara Bolton, her husband Alan, and two other family members went to bed on their Marin County houseboat one night in December, an early winter storm was pounding the Sausalito harbor where their boat was docked. But while the family slept comfortably, their mixed terrier was anything but relaxed.
That's because Bella, as the family dog is affectionately called, was sensing that something was about to go horribly wrong. A few minutes later, it would when the Bolton's houseboat sank into the cold and choppy harbor waters.
But, in the pitch black of the night with the boat still barely afloat, the dog barked and shivered — doing both just enough to wake Barbara up. By then, her husband Alan had also awakened and was coming to grips with the family's dire circumstances. "I felt Bella shaking," Barbara recalls. "But I guess I was still asleep enough to not know exactly what was happening. Thankfully, Bella and my husband Alan had awakened in time."
With the boat rapidly sinking, family members confronted the reality of the situation: They had precious little time to grab what personal possessions they could and get off the boat. "We got everything we could get off the boat, which wasn't much, in the few minutes we had," Barbara says.
"The good news is that all four of them made it off the boat safely," says Kevin Sagar, a Red Cross volunteer who serves as a member of the Disaster Action Team (DAT) for the Bay Area Chapter. "But they pretty much only had the clothes on their backs when we got there."
Sagar and DAT team member Ron Reynolds were able to provide the family with financial assistance that they could use for the basics: lodging, food and clothing. "And we were able to give them warm blankets and comfort kits," Sagar says.
While Sagar says he and Reynolds were only too happy to help, he believes Bella is more deserving of the family's gratitude. "I certainly got the feeling that if the dog hadn't been barking, they might not have woken up when they did," he says.
Today, a little more than three months later, the Boltons are slowly getting back on their feet. "It's a day-to-day thing," Barbara acknowledges. But she is excited about plans they are making to move from temporary lodging in the harbor to a replacement boat owned by a neighbor.
Barbara says the supplies and short-term assistance that Sagar and Reynolds brought to the harbor that night came in very handy. "The Red Cross was wonderful," she says, quickly adding that she and her family are grateful for all of the assistance they've received in their time of need.
"So many people have helped us," she says with a hint of emotion. "It's been pretty extraordinary."