Six years ago in December of 2009 just two days after Christmas, a little boy and his family lost their home in a house fire in Howland, Ohio. An American Red Cross Disaster Cycle Services volunteer responded to the call with her service dog. The children were sobbing because their presents from Santa were gone.
The little boy spotted volunteer Kathy Miller with her dog, Gus, and asked if he could pet him. Although Gus was not trained as a regular pet, Miller could not muster up the strength to say no to the little boy. She took off the sign that said “Stop Do Not Pet” and what happened next was nothing short of a miracle: the boy and his siblings stopped crying and spent the next hour having fun and playing around with Gus the Golden Doodle.
Miller could never forget about that night; seeing the difference her dog made to this family only helped her make her decision to cross train Gus into a therapy dog. She could not stand seeing people lose everything and not give them the chance to pet Gus, to let him help keep the families and individuals at ease. After all, Gus has helped Miller, who has Multiple Sclerosis, get through the day, so spreading his helpfulness and love seemed like the right thing to do.
Miller met two other Disaster Cycle Services volunteers with the help of the Trumbull County, Ohio interim Executive Director, Christina Gargas. Joan Heverly and Carole Magargee had their own dogs, each one a registered Canine Good Citizen (CGC) and pet therapy dog. Heverly owns a German shepherd named Oki and an Australian shepherd named Reno, and Magargee owns two golden retrievers named Skylee and Toree. They wanted to help out some way with their dogs, too, just like Miller had done. According to Kathy, after the three (dogs and ladies) became acquainted with each other, their local American Red Cross and the American Red Cross National Headquarters helped them to develop the first American Red Cross K9 Action Team in the United States.
“Christine hooked us up. We all got along so well together,” Magargee commented.
The American Red Cross K9 Action Team helps with a number of Red Cross services: responding to Disaster Cycle Services of local disasters as therapy dogs, Services to the Armed Forces by attending deployments, reunions, special events, and more as comfort dogs, and even have their own Pet First Aid and CPR classes. Miller considers the K9 Action Team “ambassadors for the American Red Cross,” since their team participates in parades, health fairs and community events. While at the events, the dogs wear their Red Cross uniforms which help to increase Red Cross recognition. The dogs go through a multitude of tests and training, and are retested every two years to ensure their behavior.
“We make a huge difference no matter where we go,” said Miller.
Colonel Steven Morris of the Air Force, who knows all of the dogs from the events they attend, said, “We insist the dogs are there for all events. They brighten up children’s faces and have a calming effect on adults. More people will open their heart to a dog showing affection, [than a counselor or therapist].”
Morris is the Deputy Commander of the 910th Medical Squadron at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna, Ohio.
“The dogs are very well-behaved and affectionate. For what [the K9 Action Team does], I think that’s fantastic. We really appreciate it,” Morris added.
On January 20, 2015, in Canton, Ohio, the members of the American Red Cross K9 Action Team were each awarded a Quilt of Valor.
“I was sobbing…It’s wonderful to be recognized for [what we do]. I feel we were recognized among other people in the military and that is overwhelming,” Miller stated.
“I was so honored. I was so happy…thankful Kathy pushed me to bring Skylee. [The ceremony] was the happiest she has been,” Magargee added.
Heverly said, “I was humbled and honored. It is a privilege to serve those who serve our country, including their families.
Each Quilt of Valor is handmade and is given to those who have contributed their service to the Military. They are meant to be used, for they heal those who have been wounded.
The team has also been awarded two Congressional Recognition certification awards.
On Tuesday, February 3, 2015, we received word that Carole Magargee’s golden retriever, Skylee, passed away from heart failure. She was about a month away of turning 14 years old. We are deeply saddened to hear of this news and would like to offer our condolences to the American Red Cross K9 Action Team.