As wildfires continue to spread across California, there's one bright spot amid the devastating destruction: Kerith the golden retriever. A 2-year-old therapy dog, Kerith has been diligently visiting firefighters across the state to provide much-needed emotional support and stress relief on the job, thus sealing her status as the goodest girl on planet Earth. POPSUGAR had the chance to catch up with Kerith's owner, Heidi Carman, to learn a bit more about what they do as a certified animal assisted crisis response team and why Kerith's presence at base camps is so important for firefighters right now.
"Kerith loves people more than other dogs or anything else."
Kerith was destined to be a human helper since birth. Heidi's family initially raised her to be a guide dog for the visually impaired, but her affectionate and charismatic personality ultimately proved more beneficial for becoming a certified therapy dog instead. "Kerith loves people more than other dogs or anything else," Heidi said. "It was clear to me from an early age that she would be an excellent therapy dog because of her love and devotion to people." After training through the Pet Partners organization and passing the evaluations with flying colors, Kerith started working at the emergency department of a local hospital in California, visiting patients, family members, medical staff, and paramedics. This was where Kerith first formed a bond with firefighters, who soon began requesting her to visit their stations. "It was love at first sight," Heidi said.
With wildfires blazing throughout California since August, Heidi knew the firefighters involved would be craving some quality time with Kerith more than ever. The duo have visited two heavily impacted locations so far: the Woodward Fire base camp in Marin County and the Creek Fire base camp in Fresno County. At each, they arrive around 6 a.m. as the crews are eating breakfast and preparing for their upcoming 24-hour shifts, while others are returning from the previous day's shift. Kerith walks up and down the rows of parked fire engines, greeting people along the way with comforting snuggles and an always-wagging tail.
"Kerith matches people's energy," Heidi told POPSUGAR. "If a firefighter is super excited and lays on the ground so Kerith can roll around and play with them, then Kerith will be higher energy and silly with them. If a firefighter is calm, stressed, and withdrawn, Kerith will be calm as well. She'll sit closely to the individual, sometimes sit on their feet and lean into their body in a way that says, 'I am here for you as long as you need me.'" The latter scenario is rather common, as many of the firefighters have been away from their families for weeks at a time, some even missing their children's big life milestones like birthdays and first steps, Heidi explained. "Not only does Kerith bring big smiles and much-needed happiness to first responders, but she is also a link to home for them," her handler said.
Interacting with therapy dogs like Kerith is proven to provide both mental and physical benefits, such as lowered blood pressure, reduced anxiety, slower breathing, and overall mood elevation. With her golden pup by her side, Heidi is on a mission to help change the stigma surrounding mental health for first responders, who commonly suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder due to the nature of the job. If you'd like to assist with her and Kerith's efforts and help them afford traveling to the various California fire base camps, you can donate to their GoFundMe page. Ahead, take a look through photos of Kerith in action, and prepare to have your heart melt into a pile of mush.