Kerith the Golden Retriever Is Offering Comfort to California Firefighters

Clear the Shelters

Meet Kerith — a certified crisis response therapy dog offering comfort and support to firefighters in California.

The 2-year-old golden retriever has met firefighters daily at the wildfire base camp in Marin County for the past few weeks, calming them and putting smiles on their faces during and after their morning briefings.

The 2,500-acre Woodward wildfire has prompted more than 200 firefighters to work on the scene, as well as five crews, 17 fire engines, five helicopters and two water-scooping planes, according to NBC Bay Area. Kerith visits the firefighters at the wildfire camp base every day.

“We are tasked with things that push our limits,” John Aitchison, a firefighter in Marin County, told TODAY. “And having something like a dog brings some of type of normalcy back into our lives. All these abnormal events are getting really tiring on all our folks here. So having that comfort is therapeutic.”

Kerith’s handler, Heidi Carman, told TODAY that the pup helps the firefighters “by just letting them be with her, and they don’t have to say anything.”

She continued, “They’ve told me that Kerith makes them feel ‘important, loved and special.’”

Kerith was born and raised to be a guide dog for the blind and “changed careers” at 14 months old to an occupation more suited for her — a therapy dog, according to Carman. The test Kerith had to take in front of five judges to obtain her therapy dog certificate was a rigorous one, Carman said. If Kerith jumped once during the entire test, she would flunk.

“Now she loves to jump up and dance with the firefighters,” Carman said.

Kerith has started sitting in on debriefing meetings following tough calls for the team to help calm them after what’s many times a traumatizing experience.

“Often, the firefighters won’t talk about their feelings, but if there’s a dog there, then it helps for them to open up and feel like they can talk,” Carman said.

“These fires are getting longer and longer, and we’re spending more and more time away from our families,” Aitchison said. “A golden retriever, one of the happiest things in the world, just reminds you of home.”

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COMMON ITEMS YOU CAN DONATE


  • Towels and blankets - Shelters are often cold and animals like to have a blanket to curl up on. Towels are a big help to dry animals off after being bathed or if they come in wet. Towels can also be used to line the bottoms of cages. The towels or blankets don't have to be brand new or in perfect condition. The animals won't mind, as long as they're usable.
  • Canned and Dry Food for Cats and Dogs-Healthy - Healthy pet options for nourishment
  • Kitty litter and cat boxes - Cats go to the bathroom- a lot. Shelters are constantly using bag after bag of litter. Their supply runs out fast.
  • Puppy or kitten formula and nursing bottles - Sometimes there are situations where a young puppy or kitten who is not weaned gets separated from their mother. In these situations they need puppy or kitten formula to survive.
  • Old newspaper - When you're done with your newspapers you usually just throw them away or recycle them, right? You could help animals at no cost to you if you just save up your old newspapers. Newspapers are used in the bottoms of cages. They get soiled quickly, so they're in constant demand.
  • Collars, harnesses, and leashes - Dogs who are taken out on walks need a leash and collar or harness. The shelter loses some because adopted dogs often go home with their leash or harness.
  • Grooming supplies - Grooming supplies can include shampoo, brushes, combs, haircutting scissors, etc. Dogs and cats often come in dirty or end up getting dirty. Grooming supplies can keep them fresh, clean, and adoptable.
  • Toys - You would get bored if you had to lay in a crate alone all day, wouldn't you? Animals in shelters get bored, too. It keeps the animals from being so lonely and bored and allows them to get exercise. You could go out and buy new toys, or you could donate toys your pets or children may have not gotten much use out of. It's as simple as that.
  • Crates and carriers - Animals need to be transported somehow, and the cost of multiple crates and carriers can add up quickly. You can donate ones you stopped using that are still in good condition or you could go buy one for a decent price. This helps the shelter tremendously.
  • Paper towels and cleaning supplies - There are a lot of situations that get messy, so paper towels are a big help.
  • Hand wash and hand sanitizer - People who work at shelters need to keep their hands clean for their and the animals' health.
  • Laundry detergent, fabric softener, and bleach - Towels and blankets get soiled often so the washing machines are being used a lot
  • Dog and cat beds - this can offer the animals a soft place to lay instead of a kennel or cage floor.
  • Heating pads - Many animals come in cold or are young and need warmth. Heating pads can replace a mother's warmth.
  • Copy paper and pens, pencils, post-it notes and staples - You can't forget about all the paperwork that has to be done. Donating these items makes it so the shelter doesn't have to buy them on their own.
  • Garbage bags, mops, brooms, and sponges - The shelter uses these every day and clean up supplies can get expensive.
  • Food bowls - As new animals come in, the shelter needs new places to put food. Having an adequate supply could mean life or death for an animal in a shelter.
  • Rubber and latex gloves - A lot of messy stuff happens and gloves are necessary to lessen the spread of germs.
  • Plastic shopping bags - Plastic bags can be used to clean up dog mess and to store things in.

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