Therapy Dog a Comfort to Disaster Survivors

I am always amazed at the way Brinkley is able to provide unconditional love and how he provides a sense of normalcy, said Deborah

The American Red Cross always wants to pay tribute to our volunteer partners and, in this case, it is a four-legged one named Brinkley. A HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response (AACR) canine, Brinkley has been providing emotional support and comfort for disaster survivors for the past 7 years, together with his proud owners, Bill and Deborah Hatherley, who are also Atlanta Red Cross and HOPE AACR volunteers.

As trained Red Cross volunteers, Bill helps with damage assessment and Deborah, a licensed psychologist, provides mental health support for disaster survivors. Their work with both the Red Cross and HOPE AACR has allowed them to include Brinkley in the service of others since he was barely more than a puppy. “He is a very sensitive and intuitive dog and seems to know who needs a warm hug, said Deborah. “I let him guide me to those who needed him most.”

Brinkley, now age 9, became certified as a HOPE AACR canine in July 2005. In December that year, canine-handler teams were invited by the American Red Cross to Baton Rouge and New Orleans to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina. Brinkley and the Hatherleys spent two weeks providing comfort and emotional support to clients in the tent cities, the Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC’s), to Red Cross volunteers in the field, headquarters and much more.

In April 2007, Brinkley and the Hatherleys were again invited by the Red Cross to help aid students at Virginia Tech following the school shooting that claimed more than 30 lives and wounded many others. Students talked to Brinkley about how they were affected and felt safer sharing their pain with him than with others. With Brinkley’s help, Deborah, was able to refer students to Red Cross mental health volunteers for additional support.

Brinkley has also helped people in our community during local disasters. In September 2009 following the Atlanta Floods, the Brinkley-Hatherley team and several other HOPE AACR teams spent every evening visiting with Red Cross shelter residents outside the Cobb Civic Center shelter. He quickly became a friend to the children, who would read him stories, take him for a walk and draw him pictures. Brinkley also provided support following the tornado that struck Buford, Georgia in November 2010. The following day, when neighborhood children arrived home from school to see the damage for the first time, Brinkley was there to provide reassurance and hugs.

Recently, Brinkley was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma – Maxilla, bone cancer of the jaw, and it has spread to his lungs. Though his illness is terminal, he has not been in pain and has kept his smile throughout. Now retired and spending time at home, Brinkley is frequently enjoying his favorite treat, a well-deserved scoop of ice cream.

“I am always amazed at the way Brinkley is able to provide unconditional love and how he provides a sense of normalcy,” said Deborah. “He’s devoted his life to providing emotional support.”

To Brinkley, a brave canine who has helped so many in times of disaster, and to volunteers Bill and Deborah Hatherley who shared him with us, a heartfelt thank-you from the American Red Cross.