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Marin County Nonprofit Brings Therapy Dogs to Comfort Firefighters

SAN RAMON (KPIX) -- Heidi Carman and her golden retriever, Kerith, are counting down to their busiest time of year.

"Kerith is definitely ready for the fire season," Carman explained.

Three-year-old Kerith brings comfort when life is rough. They're partners in Carman's San Rafael-based nonprofit, First Responder Therapy Dogs.

At base camp, Heidi and Kerith offered support to crews battling wildfires around the state including last summer at the Woodward Fire in West Marin County.

For two years, Kerith has made hundreds of visits across California to first responders experiencing trauma on the job. She came to San Rafael Station 52 and met firefighter paramedics Dan Rotwein and Braden Burrhus.

"After a critical incident or after a stressful fire season or during a pandemic, just having Kerith brings a lot of joy to the station -- really means a lot," Rotwein said.

"We can call on her to come by to give us a little piece of home, make us feel better," added Burrhus. "Makes me feel happy and positive, like there's light at the end of the tunnel."

While Heidi first trained Kerith as a guide dog, she was so friendly as a puppy that Carman instead got her certifed as a therapy dog with the national organization Pet Partners.

Carman said Kerith makes it easy for humans to find comfort: they don't have to say a word.

"They just get down, cuddle, roll around. I can see how it's helping," she said. "That's the beauty of therapy dogs. They just do their magic without having to say anything."

Kerith has become so popular, she has more than 13,000 followers on her Instagram account and she's received requests to visit fire stations all over California and Oregon.

Heidi says that, right now, the non-profit can't afford to accept all the invitations, even though the need for Kerith's love and care is growing.

"When we go to the base camps, there are thousands of firefighters and one Kerith is not enough to help everybody."

Carman does have two other certified therapy dogs with three more being trained.

With more funding, it could be all paws on deck to bring smiles to first responders.


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