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 ).
It was a few months later that I first met Marty. As Public Information Director for the Dougherty County School System, I was at Chehaw Wild Animal Park one afternoon covering a field trip with some of our elementary school students. I noticed a little table set up under a shade tree, and there was a yellow lab sitting quietly at the feet of a beautiful, petite brunette. It was the dog that drew me to the table (I will cross busy highways to pet a dog), but it was Marty who kept me there. With sparkling eyes she explained pet therapy and Delta Society, gave me a brochure, and said they were always looking for new teams. I explained I had a very old chocolate lab at home, a young dachshund that refused to obey commands of any kind, and besides, I was working full time and volunteering just wasn't possible. Marty's parting words as I walked away were, "One day you may have a special dog and lots of time. When that day comes, call me!" Three years later, I was retired and had a dog named Bear. I gave her a call.
Over the next few years Marty adopted other dogs and most of them worked with Paws Patrol. Besides Hero, there was Bridget, Happy Jack - who took Hero's place when he died of cancer at the age of 14 (he beat it once, but it returned two years later) - and her latest two, Poppy and Zeus. All except Bridget (a Beagle) were/are yellow labs.
Marty's love of animals permeated her whole being her entire life. She was a staunch vegetarian and campaigned diligently against any kind of animal abuse - from the slaughter of horses and baby seals to dog fighting. After Hurricane Katrina, she made two trips to Gulfport to aid in the rescue of animals left behind by their owners.
When Bear and I became a certified Pet Partner team in 2010, we came on board with several other teams. Since that time, under Marty's leadership, others have completed the process, and now there are nearly 25 Paws Patrol Pet Partner teams in Albany.
When Marty was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2012, she began to dedicate the remainder of her life to ensuring Paws Patrol would thrive for many years to come. Even while undergoing grueling radiation and chemo treatments, she continued to work with her newest partner, Poppy. She urged other team members to become teachers, trainers, evaluators and instructors so they could conduct the workshops and evaluations necessary to certify the teams for Pet Partners. She named team leaders to organized calendars, notify venues of our visits, and carry through the process of documenting volunteers hours.
In 2013 Marty was named Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital's Volunteer of the year.
To list all the ways in which Marty and her precious pups touched the lives of young people, adults, the sick, the disabled and the elderly would take a much longer blog post than this one, and the awards she won on the local, state and national level would take an even longer post. She dedicated her life to teaching the humane treatment of animals and educating individuals and families on how companion animals can improve health and well-being.
In Marty's obituary Betty Hester wrote, "Our hearts are broken by the loss of our hero, Marty Harris, but our spirits are lifted knowing that her gentle soul left the world just a little bit better for her presence in it. As long as shelter dogs are adopted and the Pet Partner teams she left behind keep volunteering, the world will continue to be just a little bit better every day."
At Marty's memorial service, friends were welcomed at each entrance to the church by members of the Albany Humane Society (Marty served on their Board) and dogs wearing vests stating, "Available for Adoption". At the beginning of the service, 25 dogs and one cat entered the church with their human partners. Those of us who hold the leashes sat at the end of each row of pews, and our animal companions sat either in our laps or, at the down-stay command, rested in the aisle. They weren't one bit bothered by the strangers who filled the church, the other dogs, or even the cat. They were respectful and dignified. That's the way they are trained.
I know Marty was smiling, and I know her inner puppy was so proud.
Written with love and admiration by Brenda Horton