Essay by Katherine Schriver ‘08
Schriver and Parie in New Orleans
For the past seven years, I have had the privilege of working with my dog Parie, a golden retriever who is a certified animal assisted therapy and crisis response dog. After September 11, 2001 Parie and I worked together providing emotional support and comfort on numerous occasions to the families of the victims of the disaster. I always knew I wanted to be involved in helping people cope with the losses in their life, work through their grief and come to terms with those losses. An added bonus would be to work with my dogs as well. Working with the families, I realized that I had found my life’s work. This realization left no doubt in my mind about the path that I wanted to follow. Afterward I received a certificate in thanantology, which is the study of death and dying, and last year began my studies at Pace, pursuing a Masters degree in counseling, specializing in grief and loss. I was able to draw on my studies and previous volunteer work this past December when Parie and I were called to New Orleans to provide crisis response assistance to victims of hurricane Katrina. Parie and I are part of an organization called HOPE, an animal-assisted crisis response organization whose mission is “to offer hope and provide help through safe and effective animal assisted emotional rescue, recovery and on-going support, to individuals and responders who have been affected by crisis and disaster.” Many years before, Parie and I had trained vigorously to become a member of HOPE, working in simulated disaster scenarios. I am currently an instructor and evaluator for HOPE. In that capacity I train certified therapy dogs and their handlers to qualify for animal assisted crisis response certification.
During the two weeks that Parie and I were in New Orleans, I was continually impressed with the people that I met ? with their resilient spirit and determination to get on with their lives, in spite of losing so much. Parie and I had the great honor and privilege to work with people of all ages and backgrounds. We visited people in a tent city, in FEMA disaster centers and in Red Cross staging areas. One of my most memorable visits was with a group of children, ranging in age from youngsters to pre-teens and teenagers, housed on ships in the Port of Orleans. The first time we visited with them, they did not know we were coming. Their look of surprise and smiling, happy faces as they burst into the room, rushing to hug the dogs, will always remain in my memory. We spent a wonderful afternoon with them, as they played with the dogs, took them for walks, petted them, and sometimes just sat holding or stroking them. During our stay in New Orleans, we were asked if we could make a return visit with the kids, because they had such a great time with the dogs and wanted to see them again. This time, they were prepared for our visit. I will never forget the scene as we pulled up to the ship and saw so many kids, lining the deck, yelling, “The dogs are here! The dogs are here!” During this visit we were repeatedly asked by the parents if they could take photos of their kids with the dogs. We thought it was a bit unusual that they wanted to take so many photographs. Afterward when we were talking to some of the parents, they thanked us for coming and for the picture taking. As we turned to leave, one mother, clutching the camera in her hands said, “Now I will have some pictures of my children, so we can start from scratch and build new memories.” I realized then that all the pictures of the children and their families had been destroyed, and felt extremely honored to be a part of building their new memories.
During our visit we heard stories about traumatic losses of property, human and animal lives. We also heard stories of dramatic rescues and people reunited with lost loved ones and pets. The constant thread that ran through all of our conversations was one of steadfastness and hope. Often times, people told us that they were indeed blessed to be alive. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to meet all of these wonderful people, and hear their stories. My visit inspired me to look forward to the day when as a grief and loss counselor I can provide support, comfort and hope along with my special partner, Parie, who supplies her own special magical healing of warmth , unconditional acceptance and being there for all who need her.