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November 1, 2001
California to New York City with Therapy Dogs
On September 11th, 2001 the world witnessed one of the most horrific
terrorist acts ever conceived. Thousands of lives were vaporized
as the New York World Trade Center crumbled into ash. In the aftermath,
many more thousands of lives were traumatized. Families and friends
of the victims, rescue workers, fire and police personnel, survivors,
and volunteers began a grieving process. The Red Cross established
a crises support unit at the Family Assistance Center, Pier 94,
to assist those in dire need.
As the nation began to mourn, shock and disbelief permeated the
land. The shock turned to anger, the anger turned to a very strong
display of patriotism. And everybody in the United States responded
with an outpouring of support to the people of New York City.
Californians felt helpless, being so far away. But they did what
they could and raised millions of dollars for the Red Cross Fund.
I felt frustrated in the weeks to follow. Sally, my wife, and I
had developed special Therapy Dog skills over the last 5 years,
and this is exactly what was needed to help people through that
grieving period. I wanted to drive our therapy dogs Jackson & Sweetheart
to New York City. I didn't know how or even if we could, but I
was determined to make it happen.
I started making phone calls and checking the Internet. I finally
contacted Delta Society, our therapy dog organization, and they
directed me to Debbie Freundlich and her Delta team in New Jersey.
Debbie advised me through e-mail that the American Society For
The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Red Cross, and Delta
Society had coordinated an effort to make therapy dog visits to
the Family Assistance Center. I told Debbie my qualifications,
offered to drive to New York and requested she use us in any way
In the following days I had to figure out just how we could do
this trip. I put my dog training business on hold, and Sally put
in for a leave of absence from her job at FEDEX.
At first Sally was hesitant to leave our safe little community
in Helendale and drive cross-country into the pandemonium of New
York City. After much debate we came to the conclusion that this
is something we had to do. Next obstacle, how to finance the trip?
We didn°¶t have the money to do this, but we did have
good credit and had recently payed down our credit cards, so plastic
saved the day.
Next big obstacle, I wanted to take °ßSweetheart°®.
Sweetheart is a little stray mixed breed dog who was set on fire
by kids almost 2 years ago. She made a miraculous recovery with
the help of Mike Erhing, Dr Mori, and her adopted owner Barbara
Reyes. Sweetheart is a true survivor, who I felt could inspire
some of the people of New York. Almost a year ago, Barbara (a burn
survivor herself) had graciously agreed for me to certify on Sweetheart
and use her for therapy dog work. This little dog meant the world
to Barbara and her family. Taking Sweetheart away for 3 weeks would
be difficult. So I put off asking her. A few days later Barbara
called me. In an emotional plea of certainty Barbara said, °ßCharlie,
you have to take Sweetheart to New York. They need her.°®
I spent hours on the Internet trying to find a Hotel. One we could
afford and would take two dogs, a 75lbs German Shepherd and 35lbs
mixed Beagle. I made reservations at The Astor on the Park. Located
on the Upper West Side of Manhattan it was across the street from
Central Park, cost $80 a night and accepted a small dog. I figured
I°¶d worry about the last part once we got there. Curiously,
Astor was the name of my first Patrol Dog in the US Air Force.
He was a German Shepherd that fired my passions to work with dogs,
and led me to this very mission.
Sally's leave of absence was approved, the Honda Odyssey was packed,
the dogs were eager, and we were on our way to New York City, leaving
Helendale, California at 7:31am on Monday October 8th,2001.
After a long and hard drive, we arrived in New York City on Friday,
October 12th, 2001 at 4:00 pm. At check-in the clerk told us that
they did not accept any dogs, not even little ones. I showed the
clerk Jackson's and Sweethearts Delta Pet Partner identifications
and informed him that we were here from California to do volunteer
work at the Family Assistance Center. The clerk smiled, thanked
me for what we were doing, and proceeded to give us a room. The
room was small, but clean, and had a view of Central Park across
We settled into the room, unpacked, and took the dogs for a walk
in the park. Central Park was very impressive, big, beautiful,
and lots of people with dogs. At 6:00pm we loaded up the dogs and
started driving towards the area of the World Trade Center crash
site, what has become known as, °ßGround Zero°®.
The first stop we made was a Fire Station in Hells Kitchen. As
we approached the station we saw a makeshift shrine in front of
the building with flowers, candles and pictures. A few people were
out front taking pictures. We approached the first fireman we saw
and explained that we had these wonderful dogs that do therapy
work in hospitals, schools, veteran°¶s homes and other
places. The fireman looked very sad and somewhat somber. As we
explained why we were there you could see a puzzled looked come
across his face. We then introduced the dogs and told him their
stories. Within minutes he was petting Jackson and Sweetheart,
smiling and asking questions about them. Several other firemen
who gathered around the dogs then joined us. They also started
to smile, laugh, and pet the dogs. We took Polaroid pictures with
each fireman and the dogs and gave them to the firemen. At first
they were very surprised asking, °ßThese pictures are
for us?°®. I explained to them that these pictures were
to remind them that even the people of California are thinking
about them and wishing them well. They thanked us profusely saying
they would put these pictures in their lockers and look at them
every day. As we left they smiled and again thanked us.
We then found another fire station on LaFeyette Avenue. Had a difficult
time finding a parking place (I understand now why people in NYC
do not have cars) so we did like the New Yorkers do and double-parked
just down from the station. Very similar scene as the last station,
except the firemen we saw here were extremely depressed. They were
still in shock. They would move about the station in a trance like
state, looking at us but not really seeing us. We found out later,
14 of their men had been killed in their rescue efforts at the
World Trade Center. I picked out one particular fireman that looked
the worse and explained why we there. I introduced him to Sweetheart
and told him about her story of being set on fire by kids. As I
told the story he became somewhat animated, and horrified. I told
him how Sweetheart not only survived but also turned this tragic
situation into something wonderful with the help of many people.
By the end of the story he was petting and praising Sweetheart
saying she was an inspiration. Several other depressed firemen
came over and started petting and praising her. I had Jackson do
a few tricks (sit high, high five, speak) and all of the firemen
laughed and were amazed. We took Polaroid's and gave them the firemen.
Again a look of surprise and a huge outpouring of gratitude. By
the time we left we saw many smiles and heard the sweet tones of
laughter emitting from within. I have seen the power of dogs in
pulling people out of the depths of hopelessness on numerous occasions
but it still amazes me.
We returned to the Aster emotionally exhausted. Our first night
in New York City and we had met such wonderful, sincere people.
We were looking forward to tomorrow's visit at the Family Assistance
Center with excitement and anticipation. The dogs were also exhausted.
We gave them massages put them to bed and we all slept through
the night with nary a stir.
We were scheduled for our first visit at the Family Assistance
Center at 12:00pm on Saturday, October 13th. We left the hotel
at 10:00am, arrived at the Center at 10:20am. We groomed, brushed
and freshened up the dogs preparing them for their visit. As we
approached the Center we saw °ßThe Wall°®. Pictures
of missing loved ones. The photos had descriptions, poems, and
messages attached to them. They were posted on a long plywood fence.
It was overwhelming. There were thousands of faces, with loving
desperate pleas of help. It hit us very hard. We were looking at
every day people, not unlike our own friends, neighbors and relatives.
Now these people existed only in hearts and minds of their nearest
After passing through heavy security we entered a large building
known as Pier 94. The Red Cross and City of New York had established
the Family Assistance Center at this location to assist Families
and survivors. Inside were thousands of people. Everybody had on
tags identifying themselves as Family, Staff, or volunteer. The
Red Cross personnel were wearing vests some identifying themselves
as Mental Health, Grief Councilor, or Chaplain. The large warehouse
building was partitioned off with curtains, designating areas such
as Legal Aid, Financial Aid, Religious preference, interpreters,
Children's Corner, Food Service, Death Certificate issuance, and
communications. As busy as it looked, it seemed very well organized
and free flowing. We marveled at the efficiency and cooperation.
Everybody seemed to have something to do, and everybody was doing
We checked in at the ASPCA desk and were given a briefing by Dr.
Stephanie LaFarge, Senior Director of Counseling Services. Basically
it was our job to walk about the building with our dogs. If anybody
showed an interest we would stop and interact with them, letting
them pet and play with Jackson and Sweetheart. Within the first
half hour we made contact with several people. Most were °ßFamily°® members
who seemed stressed or depressed. It was amazing how the simple
act of petting and interacting with our dogs would create such
a stir. We would stop to talk to one or two people and before too
long a crowd would gather around us. People were fascinated and
curious, but most of all they were relaxed, smiling, and open.
Some of them would tell us about their loved ones in a comforting
strong resolve. Others would well up with tears and hug the dogs.
Afterwards they would lavish us with praises of gratitude. Telling
us how much being there helped them.
We proceeded to the children's corner where there were many kids.
Inside were hundreds of toys scattered about the room, and numerous
mental health personnel working with the kids. As we entered, the
kids lit up like Christmas trees, and started playing with the
dogs. Off into one corner I noticed a 7-8 year old boy sitting
on the floor by himself. He was very withdrawn. Several mental
health workers were attempting, in vain, to get the boy to play,
talk and just open up. I could see it was a frustrating situation.
I grabbed Jackson, and laid him down approximately 10 feet away
from the child. I started playing with Jackson and noticed the
boy making quick glances our way. I then took a large squeaky ball
and rolled it towards the boy hitting him on the leg. He angrily
pushed the ball back and Jackson grabbed it. Jackson squeezed the
ball and rolled it back to the boy. The boy rolled it back to Jackson.
This went on for about 3-4 minutes. With each roll of the ball
the boy would open up a little at a time. until he started to smile.
I then grabbed Jackson and went on to the next child. About 10
minutes later I looked back and saw the boy playing and talking
to the mental health workers. Thirty minutes later one of the mental
health workers approached me and told me the boy had lost his parents
in the crash. Mental health professionals had been working with
him for several days with no progress, and were very concerned
about his recovery. She said, "You walk in with Jackson and
in less than 5 minutes there is a breakthrough. He's going to be
OK, thanks to your help." So simple, so effective.
the boat ride an enthusiastic Sweetheart and
Sally met Jackson and me. The dogs got so excited
acting as if we had been separated for days rather
than just 2 hours. We started for the cafeteria
to take a break and get something to eat.
we headed in that direction we would be stopped
every few yards by people asking questions about
Sweethearts burn scars. The skin graft
is very noticeable, starting halfway down her
back, leaving an exposed pink little butt. The
questions were well meaning and sweet. Is
that abad haircut or what? She have
some kind of skin disease? Is this
one of those hairless dogs? I would reply, No,
no. Some kids doused her with gasoline and set
her on fire. Thats actually a skin graft
that has completely healed. Of course that
shocks them, and their reaction is at first apologetic
and then sympathetic. I had no idea! Next
thing you know they are calling over all their
friends to meet Sweetheart. Small crowds gathered
around us. They would pet and hug Sweetheart
and Jackson. Some with tearing eyes, all with
smiling faces by the time wewalked away.
reaction was so heartwarming. One gentleman approached
Sweetheart and hugged her as tears flowed down
his face. After a moment he straightened up with
a smile and told Sally That felt so good!
I was so stressed out. Itjust left my body as
I hugged her. Then a look of worry came
across his face, Im so sorry to have
done that to such a sweetheart. I gave her my
stress! Sally reassured him that Sweetheart
could handle it. Thats why shes
here, to help with that stress. Dont worry,
they both get lots of love and massage during
the day. Thats our job, helping them with
cafeteria was busy and filled. Off into one section
was a resting area where police, fire and rescue
personnel occupied numerous couches. The pace
here was slower and relaxed. As we ate, Jackson
and Sweetheart lay on the carpeted floor, sometimes
drifting off to a light sleep. People would still
approach and ask about the dogs, asking to pet
them. I toldthem that what the dogs needed right
now is rest and maybe a light massage. Then I
ask, Would you like to massage them? Jackson
and Sweetheart are now lying on the floor, getting
soothing massages, drifting into a deep comfortable
sleep. (Theyre snoring softly!)
After lunch, we scheduled our next visit for Monday morning, said
our goodbyes and drove back to the hotel. As we left the Family
Assistance Center Sally commented on our first day. This
has been the most wonderful experience I have ever had. I know
in my heart that we have done the right thing by making this trip
with these wonderful dogs. The feeling was exhilarating and
Sunday morning we arose to the sounds of honking horns. I looked
out the window and saw thousands of people in a walk-a-thon to
find a cure for breast cancer. I put the dogs vests on and
took them down to join the march. We walked for several blocks
meeting so many friendly people. They loved Sweetheartand Jackson
and were amazed at them doing therapy work.
returned to our hotel where Sally and I had a
breakfast of New York bagels, coffee, and orange
juice. We decided to drive into Manhattan and
see Times Square. By late morning we arrived
to the area and found an underground public parking
lot. I drove up to the parking attendants, stopped
the van, and brought the dogs out. Within seconds
10 parking attendants all excited and smiling
about our dogs surrounded us. As they petted
the dogs we told them their stories and they
were amazed. More cars drove in behind us. As
the passengers would exit, the parking attendants
would bring them over to meet Sweetheart and
Jackson. We took some Polaroid pictures of them
and the dogs and gave them to the attendants.
Our attendant told us he would park our van up frontclose to them
so they could keep an eye on it.
Times Square had returned to the fast pace, peoplein a hurry, no
time to visit, existence it once was. But many people would stop
to ask about Sweetheart and Jackson. After hearing their story
people responded with warmth and gratitude. They asked to shake
our hands and thanked us for helping. They were deeply touched
by our presence in their time of need.
had lunch in Bryant Park. The sun was warm, the
air crisp with the scent of moist grass. We met
three young ladies who had been best friends
in high school. They were all living in different
parts of thecountry and had decided to reunite
in New York City. This was their way of supporting
the people of New York City. For them it had
been a very profound experience.
were all dog lovers. You could tell, it was such
a treat for them to be able to meet Jackson and
Sweetheart. One of the ladies confided in Sally
saying, I feel a little guilty. I hate
to say it but. I miss my dog more than I miss
my husband. Of course our conversations
led to Sweethearts story. After telling just
the burning part, one of the ladies became so
upset she started weeping and couldnt stop.
Even as we tried to console her, telling of Sweethearts
recovery and wonderful therapy work, she wept
uncontrollably. Several minutes later she settled
down. We took some pictures said goodbyes and
were on our way to Chinatown.
I wanted to find a police station to visit. Sally was a bit apprehensive
thinking they might not want to be bothered or too busy. I figured
the only way to find out was to ask. We were fortunate to have
found a parking spot that was one block from the 5Th Precinct.
we approached the Station we saw New Yorks
finest at their best. He was tall, sixfoot five,
broad shouldered and impressive in his sharp
dress blues. He spoke with an Irish lilt that
was as charming as his big bushy mustache. He
had a stern look about him as he stood guard
at the front door. I ask him,This might
sound a little strange but. We are from California
and have these wonderful dogs. Theyre therapy
dogs and we would like to make a visit.
huge smile jumped outwith excitement. He told
of how his Maltese got him through his stress
and grief. Every night after a grueling
12-16 hour day, I would come home to her happy
face. She helped me escape. I would spend hours
just stroking her.
invited us in, introducing us to the other officers.
Before long a small group of officers had gathered
around the dogs. One young officer started talking
about his ordeal, I saw people jumping
out of windows and hitting the ground. I dont
dream any more, I just have nightmares. Within
a short time the officers were smiling and seemed
to feel at ease with the dogs. We took Polaroid
pictures and gave them to the officers. Again
we left showered with gratitude.
made brief visits to two more Fire Stations,
Chinatown and Little Italy, and headed back to
Monday morning we were up early, arriving at the Family Assistance
Center by 9:oo am. My scheduled boat ride with Sweetheart was at
10:00 am. As we entered the Center, to our surprise, several people
called out Sweetheart and Jackson are in the building!
minutes people were rushing to our location saying, I
heard so much about Sweetheart and Jackson, I
just had to meet them I heard what
Jackson did for that little boy. It was so touching. Or, I
heard Sweethearts story and had to meet this
brave little dog. One group of religious
ministers upon meeting Jackson and sweetheart
proclaimed, It is an honor to finally meet
the famous Jackson and Sweetheart. We have heard
so many wonderful things.
9:45 am Sweetheart and I were in the staging
area of the boat ride. Sweetheart strode into
the room with her head high and her tail wagging.
Without hesitation she actively sought out family
members, looking for an approving signal. When
someone would smile and call out to her she would
bounce over to them, and let go a flood of joy.
The response was an absolute delight. Sweethearts
contagious enthusiasm spreads. It fills the room
with smilesof resolve.
was a windy day with high swells in the river.
The boat ride over to GroundZero was rocky and
rough. This seemed to serve as a distraction,
as most family members were holding onto somethingto
keep their balance. Sweetheart weathered the
rough ride on her short four legs, much better
than us two leggedspecies.
At Ground Zero we climbed the stairs to the observation platform,
Sweetheart and I staying in the background. After a brief moment
I saw a man greeting each family member giving his condolence.
Upon seeing his face I realized it was Mayor Rudy Giuliani. After
greeting the family members, he made ita point to thank each volunteer.
were the last in line as Mayor Rudy walked up
to me and shook my hand. I said in a hurried
voice, This is Sweetheart and we came from
California to help! He looked at Sweetheart,
bent down and petted her on the head. When he
straightened up he looked at me sincerely and
said with moisture in his eyes,Thank you
so much for what youre doing.
ride back was much calmer which gave me a chance
to make several contacts. Sweetheart warmed to
the situations by toning down her response. She
seemed to do more cuddling. She seemed
quieter, more listening, accepting. This approach
worked well in comforting the families. On one
occasion Sweetheart took a liking to a Spanish
speaking, older man.
sat at the end of his bench staring up at him,looking
for that signal. He looked down at her and smiled.
She cocked her head to the side, wagged her tail
and continued her stare. I gestured to him if
he would like to pet her. His smile widens as
he nods in approval. I have Sweetheart do a paws
up on the bench next to him. He reaches
down and starts to pet her and laugh. The man
scoots in on the bench making room for her to
jump up next to him. He indicates to me to have
her jump up closer. So I have her jump up onto
the bench. The next thing I hear is, Dont
He is has a fear of dogs! the interpreter yells. I apologized immediately
and went to take her off when the man said, no, no. Its ok, ok!
Sweethearts tenacious attitude warmed his heart in a special
way; he had clearly over come his fear of dogs.
Sweetheart cuddled up next to the man resting her head on his lap.
He laughed and held her to him. After a brief moment he thanked
her and she is on her way to the next in need.