Marty Harris always closed her emails with the above quote from her beloved yellow Labrador Retriever, Hero - the first therapy dog to work in Albany, GA. Early Friday morning, our Marty lost her 18-month struggle with cancer, after battling it with the same strength, determination and courage she poured into every endeavor in her rich and fulfilling life.
Even though I was not as close to Marty as many others in our group - others knew her much longer and worked with her more closely - I'm going to try and give you a small inkling of what knowing Marty meant to all of us. Maybe a little smidgen of what she stood for will rub off on someone who reads this, a seed will be planted, and another Pet Partner team will grow. For those of us who work with Paws Patrol, she sure planted that seed in us.
Marty was born in St. John's, Newfoundland and lived there, and in Germany and England before coming to the United States. In 1996 she met the love of her life, Jeff, in Jacksonville FL, and that same year they married and moved to Albany. The first thing Marty did when she got settled into her new home was visit the Albany Humane Society, where she met and adopted the other love of her life - Hero, a young yellow Labrador. With a small group of like-minded friends and their four-legged companions, Marty founded Paws Patrol, and the group began visiting nursing homes, hospitals, Easter Seals, the Albany Youth Detention Center, and any other facility that invited them to come and spread the magic of animal assisted therapy.
In 2000, both local hospitals suggested Paws Patrol become an affiliate of Delta Society (now Pet Partners) for the liability, support and international credibility. The local teams attended the mandated workshops and were evaluated by a Delta Society instructor. They all passed with flying colors, and with the international organization behind them, they were ready to start taking in new members.
For their work with the Albany Youth Detention Center, Hero was named 2004 Hero Dog of the Year by the Georgia Veterinary Medical Association. Through "Project Hero" young people in the detention center had the opportunity to care for, train and socialize homeless pets from a nearby animal shelter. Through the program, the dogs became better candidates for adoption, and the teenagers learned to be more compassionate individuals.
In 2006 Hero was one of five dogs nominated for the Pedigree Paws to Recognize National Hero Dog of the Year Award. His profile and accomplishments were listed, along with those of four other dogs from around the country, on the Pedigree web site, and the dog receiving the most votes would be declared the winner. Hero's home town of Albany was determined to guarantee Hero another prestigious award, and through the efforts of Albany media, local businesses and individual families, he received 70,000 votes and was named Pedigree's Dog of the Year for 2006. (Remember - this was BEFORE Facebook and Twitter became such giants in social media and the term "going viral" had not even been coined ).