Originally published on the Red Cross National Capital Region blog.
Honoring an American Red Cross volunteer at a ceremony typically involves a handshake, but with this special volunteer team, you need to shake a few paws as well.
Dr. Jen O’Keefe is a veterinarian at SouthPaws who has two male purebred Leonbergers. The trio was recently recognized as the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center’s Volunteers of the Quarter. Each of the dogs volunteer close to 100 hours a year, at the Walter Reed Hospital and its clinics as well as at numerous schools, libraries, rehab centers, nursing homes and disaster sites.
“The dogs love serving as therapy dogs,” said Jen. It’s the highlight of their week.”
In the years since, they have been very busy. Besides making the rounds at their usual local sites, Jen and the dogs have traveled to other states in response to various disasters. She will take them anywhere that the dogs will be beneficial, including locations where there has been a crisis or natural disaster. Aslan is eight years old and weighs 160 pounds; Digory is five years old and 120 pounds. Aslan has a sweet, gentle demeanor, while Digory is more outgoing and active, but both love their roles as volunteers. They especially love working with children. As therapy dogs, their jobs require them to make appearances, get showered with attention and brighten people’s days. An occasional dog treat is surely an appreciated incentive as well.
Both dogs had to go through an extensive process to qualify as Red Cross therapy dogs. After almost a year as volunteers in various locations, they needed to pass Good Citizen Tests, which are certified by the American Kennel Club. Then they had to go through a Red Cross screening before being approved to serve at Red Cross sites. Aslan earned his Red Cross certification in 2014, while Digory earned his in 2018.
Wherever they go, the dogs turn heads. Initially, people can’t help but notice them for their size. Before long, though, it’s their happy, calming energy that draws people to interact with them.
“It’s amazing to walk into a room and see everyone smile,” said Jen. “The dogs and I get as much out of the experience as the people that we visit.”
The Red Cross is grateful that these three are so committed to serving the community!
Contact your your local Red Cross Chapter to find out how your pup can become a volunteer: https://www.redcross.org/find-your-local-chapter.html.