Therapy dog team visits hotshot crew after death of a member

A 27-year-old firefighter with the Craig Interagency Hotshot Crew died Wednesday, Aug. 10, after being struck by a tree while assigned to the Big Swamp Fire in Oregon.

On Friday Aug 12 a broadcast message was sent out by a CCoCO coordinator asking for a team to respond to a request from one of the firefighters, Joey Landers, for a therapy dog team to spend some time with the Craig Hotshot Crew, who were staying in Bend after one of their wildland firefighters, Collin Hagan, was tragically killed.

I was free, Coco was clean, so we jumped into the car and headed for Pine Nursery Park. We are very familiar with Pine Nursery Park because Coco and I go every Tuesday morning while it’s cool and play ball for a while.

When we arrived, I saw a group of people on one of the fields, talking quietly, playing frisbee, sitting, hanging out. We wandered over and found the Hotshot Crew. 

I introduced Coco, my therapy dog, but she was so focused on the field that we play on, she was just wondering where the ball was. I thought about taking a ball for a little game with the crew, but it was 90F with no shade, and I knew it wasn’t a good idea for her to run a lot. 

Most of the crew wandered over to meet Coco, giving her some friendly petting, asking questions about her. It took a little while for Coco to forget about the ball, and about that time most went for a rousing game of beach volleyball. We sat by the court and cheered them on. One at a time, a few wandered over to sit with us and talk about Coco, how old she is, how soft her coat is, or their dogs that they were missing, etc. Coco showed them her best tricks – spin, high five, roll over, sit pretty, say your prayers.

When it was time for them to return to the hotel and dinner, we said goodbye, and I let them know how much we appreciate them and what they do, no matter where they are.

They walked back to the Forest Service building, but I had the sense that we needed to go there also and visit one more time. When we arrived at the Forest Service building, they were all standing around waiting. Again we walked around, greeting everyone, but by then Coco understood, maybe better than I did, why she was there. She went up to each person to be petted, sat next to them on the benches, and snuggled with those who seemed to need her attention. One of them put his arm around her, petting her, quietly resting his head in her soft fur. They sat there for quite a while, heads together, connecting with each other. A moment of relief, of distraction, of peace on an otherwise sad day.

Anita and Coco

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