By Rich Woodruff and Marianna Moles, American Red Cross

With green polka-dot bows in her hair, red painted nails, a wet nose and swishing tail, Kennedy prances into American Red Cross shelters with one goal: to bring comfort to folks displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

Kennedy – named after former first lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis – is a crisis therapy dog with Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response, a Red Cross partner founded in 2001 to respond in the aftermath of disaster and crises. Comfort dogs serve as bridges to connect individuals back to their peers and communities and to reduce stress.

When shelter resident James Bass saw Kennedy walk in, he sat right down next to her and began scratching behind her ears. He misses his own pet Puppy Dog, who is staying with his brother while Bass remains at the shelter.

“It was raining sheets. I now know what that means. It’s scary,” the retired bricklayer said. “Water can be so beautiful, yet so evil.” Hurricane Harvey left his apartment unlivable, so he now calls the shelter home until he finds a new place.

“There are lots of broken hearts in that room,” the Beaumont native said, looking towards the gym where more than 100 cots are laid out in the Sterling Pruitt Activity Center for people who were driven from their homes.

Soon Kennedy is the focus of attention of a group of youngsters, just back from school. They’re eager to join Bass for a turn to pet the friendly dog.

Kennedy is used to being surrounded by adoring shelter residents and Red Cross volunteers. She moves toward one woman who looks particularly stressed.

“She senses you need her,” says Sara Gubala, who trained Kennedy to be a crisis therapy dog three years ago.

The mother, Debbie, begins to stroke Kennedy, intuitively accepting that the unconditional attention of an animal may be exactly what she needs to lift her heart. Her daughter Linsi too finds comfort in Kennedy’s patient presence. Although they lost everything in their home and their future is uncertain, now they have a new friend and a glimpse of happiness.

James Bass, a lifetime Beaumont, Texas resident, pets Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response dog Kennedy during her visit to the Red Cross shelter at Sterling Pruitt Activity Center. James is missing his own dog who is now staying with his brother until he is able to move out of the shelter. His apartment is uninhabitable due to Hurricane Harvey. (Red Cross photo by Marianna Moles)
Red Cross shelter residents at Sterling Pruitt Activity Center enjoy time with Kennedy, a Hope Animal-Assisted Crisis Response dog, who is trained to bring therapeutic comfort to disaster survivors, like Linsi (center), who endured Hurricane Harvey in Beaumont, Texas. (Red Cross photo by Marianna Moles)