Kerith the First Responder Therapy Dog Is Warming Hearts Wherever She Goes
Kerith the golden retriever is a 3-year-old therapy dog who has a special knack for connecting with the folks who need her the most. Kerith works daily with her pet parent Heidi Carman, director of First Responder Therapy Dogs in Marin County, Calif. The duo supports firefighters, paramedics, dispatchers, law enforcement, and search and rescue teams who deal with the physical and emotional challenges they face being everyday heroes on the job.
Kerith was the first pooch to be a part of the program, and is now the lead therapy dog who's become a popular face at police and fire stations and base camps for wildland fires throughout California. Her calming presence provides emotional support to first responders when they need it most.
"I think Kerith is just intuitive and she knows who needs her," Carman tells Daily Paws. "And she provides that love."
Before she'd even met Kerith as an 8-week-old pup, Carman was a "puppy raiser" who'd worked with Guide Dogs for the Blind for 20 years. Her role as a puppy raiser was to help socialize and train the young dogs who would eventually go on to work as service dogs for the visually impaired.
Though Carman took Kerith under her wing with the goal of eventually placing her in a handler match as a guide dog, fate would have it another way. By the time she was 14 months old, Carman says Kerith was not selected to become a working service dog. But this doggie version of a "career change" meant that Carman could officially adopt the sweet pup. She thought Kerith's sweet disposition might make her a good fit as a therapy dog, so the two became a therapy-certified team who could provide emotional support to first responders.
"Kerith's personality is fun and loving, and silly, and affectionate, and so sweet," Carman says. She loves to be pet more than anything in the entire world. She cannot get enough love and attention, and she demands it."
Kerith's lovable personality means she has a natural ability to bring people joy and comfort, and she's especially skilled at working with first responders.
"In the first responder community, there is a huge stigma around mental health, and the first responders have a hard time asking for help," Carman says. "The dogs will just go up to a first responder and they'll have a moment together where the first responder is just hugging the dog and petting the dog and no words have to be exchanged."
Together, Kerith and Carman visit fire station crews, police briefings, and 911 dispatch workers with a playful petting session to break up their stressful day.
"I think Kerith's therapy dog work is her favorite thing that she does. She gets so excited when she meets a new person," Carman says. This little ball of joy seems to make fast friends everywhere she goes—a great characteristic for a pooch who's offering love and support to folks who need it most.
The duo wants to encourage other pet parents to get involved in their own communities, and has even created a first responder therapy dog certification program to help prepare other dogs to do the kind of work Kerith does. Carman says that working with Kerith has changed her life in ways she can't even believe.
"I am better together with Kerith because she shows me what unconditional love looks like," Carman says. We're so glad this sweet pooch found her calling as a therapy dog!