KeyKey came to visit me today — it’s been a while. I took the out the hidden box of doggie treats, but he kept eyeing the refrigerator door, hoping for better things, knowing I am a sucker. And when it comes to him, I should be.
He was on his best behavior, all dog, all cute, panting, excited that he’s been for a ride in the car with the windows open, his ears flapping in the breeze. He likes to ride. Crazy for it. Not quite sure why he was at grandma’s house, but hey, grandma’s cool.
KeyKey was about to be photographed with me for the annual Red Cross “Heroes” campaign.
“Heroes,” for the purpose of this campaign, are the people in a community who make significant donations to support the all volunteer efforts of the Red Cross. The agency runs almost exclusively with volunteers as its life’s blood, but the infrastructure costs money to run: office space to lease, communications gear, radios and GPS equipment, computers, laptops for the field, volunteer training, community outreach, CPR and other paid classes that help support the local chapter, emergency vehicles to maintain and stock … it’s no different than any other business in that respect. Clarksville’s Red Cross is a local chapter run with local dollars. Donors wanted.
Heroes are also characters like KeyKey, who doesn’t know he’s a dog. KeyKey was a rescued dog, an isolated neglected pet who took a long time to become socialized, to become the charming, whacky, loveable family member he is. He is also a Hero with two lives to his credit.
And that is the first story.
On August 30, 2006, KeyKey lay at my bedroom door, looking as pathetic and pitiful as possible. Dogs are good at that. My grandchildren let him into my room (not the norm) before leaving for school at 6:30. KeyKey fell alseep on my feet on that hot August morning. Then he went crazy. Whining, screeching, howling, clawing, biting and otherwise forcing me to consciousness.
Alright, already, I said and got up to this abnormally manic dog out. I opened my door at 6:55 to find the living room in flames and thick, putrid sticky black smoke deepening, depleting the breathable air in the hall. Burning pieces of “stuff” falling everywhere.
Barefoot I ran through the embers with KeyKey never leaving my side, attached to my leg, prodding, urging me to get out. I didn’t feel the embers burn my feet, didn’t feel my hair singe, didn’t feel the burns on my arms or the smoke in my lungs until later.
Adrenalin pumping, my brain raced on multiple tracks, counting off who and what might still be here, alive: kids gone (I heard them leave), Kelly away, Bearded Dragon in back bedroom (not going there to get trapped), turtle in tank downstairs, safe for now), undisciplined teenaged puppy hooked outside; Iguana dead in the fire, Robert sleeping … Robert sleeping downstairs … it is amazing how the brain plays back tracks of thought in crisis.
I raced down the open stairwell through a fiery rain and kicked the front door open to free the dog, then descended more stairs to awaken my son-in-law, who was sound asleep directly under the fire. I screamed him into consciousness and we both got out, racing back up the half-flight of stairs, under the fiery rain again and out the door. Fire officials said that at the rate the house went up, I would have died from smoke inhalation and my son-in-law could easily have died as the floor above burned through — if it weren’t for the dog.
One minute I was standing outside, in shorty pajamas, bare burned feet in mud and wet grass, watching firehouses rip through the garden and firemen pop out the windows and the ceilings. The next minute I was in an ambulance, on oxygen.
That’s where the second story begins.
I barely blinked and there was a big white truck with a big red cross on the side, parked at my neighbor’s house, a tumble of people pouring out with fluffy red blanket, folding chairs, bottled water, hugs and hope. Disaster cards issued on the spot for clothes and food. Referrals for disaster relief. Offered by people, strangers, who just dropped everything and raced to our house to help.
Today, nine months after the fact, I am a Red Cross Volunteer. Pitching in. Giving back.
The unsung heroes, now are the hundred, yes, hundreds, of local volunteers in communities across the country, who drop everything, day or night, weekends and holidays, rushing off on a moment’s notice to help total strangers when disaster strikes. They catch cold after staying up all night in sleet and snow, sweat in blistering summer heat, get soaked in the rain, go without sleep, all while offering emotional support and material assistance to disaster victims and support for the firefighters and rescue workers on the front lines of disaster. These volunteer head out of town for indeterminate lengths of time for major disasters like Hurricanes Katrina, Andrew and the four-pack that struck Florida in one summer, and Hurricanes like Andrew in the 1990s. This week there are Red Cross volunteers all over Greensburg Kansas and other communities ravaged by tornadoes last week. They were all over Clarksville when our city was struck by tornadoes in 1999.
They also plan ahead, contracting potential shelters and assembling supplies at staging areas, the logistical things needed yesterday should disaster strike.
Should a disaster happen, be it a house fire, a flood, a tornado, or some other event, Red Cross volunteers not only drop everything and race to help, they stay in the field until the job is done, then stay late in the offices doing the paperwork that tracks the help they give and the victim caseloads they manage. They continually train, study, practice and live lives of unselfish giving. Hands on.
They are also the first line of communication with our troops overseas, all over the world.
They are unpaid, unsung heroes.
That said, the Clarksville Red Cross “Heroes” campaign is underway and needs your support. You, the public, can make a difference. With your donations, you support the systems and training that allow these selfless volunteers to do the work they do.The dollars you designate for Clarksville Red Cross stay in Clarksville.
Your donation can be sent to Clarksville Red Cross, 585 S Riverside Dr., Suite L, Clarksville TN 37040. Please note that Checks must be made out to Clarksville Red Cross in order to stay in Clarksville, otherwise funds are automatically designated to national American Red Cross centers.
I never expected the disaster of fire, and never expected to find the Red Cross parked outside my home. But on that day last August, I was very glad they were there.