The beginning of October brought unprecedented flooding to South Carolina and first responders, including American Humane Association’s Red Star Rescue team sprang into action, saving stranded residents from cars and homes (and in our case, frightened animals from abandoned houses and floating debris). Columbia, South Carolina had multiple dam breaches and record rainfall, causing water to engulf the roadways and overtake many homes.
To help rebuild the spirits of people who have lost so much, I traveled with my faithful companion, Butler the Weather Channel Therapy Dog in Columbia, South Carolina two weeks after it was hard-hit by nearly eight inches of rain in 24 hours and catastrophic flooding. Butler travels around the country to bring hope and healing to communities affected by disasters. The water had finally receded and the day we arrived, the city lifted the water boiling advisory. As we drove around the now-quiet streets of the affected neighborhoods, one could see the damaged homes, piles of debris and people’s possessions washed into their front yards.
In one neighborhood, Butler visited with two families that have lived side-by-side for years. He took a special liking to the three young girls who bravely told him their stories of the night the water rose. Two weeks ago, 8-year-old Paden was asleep in her bedroom when the sound of her dresser falling over with a crash awoke her. She scrambled out of bed and stepped into water that was already up to her knees. Terrified and sobbing, she bounded up the stairs to her parents’ room.
Today, Paden grabs Butler’s leash and wants to show him her bedroom – or what’s left of her bedroom. As we walk through the rooms, which are merely frames, an antique piano lies against the wall on its side, water-damaged and covered in dirt. Paden’s dad managed to salvage the door where the family noted the girls’ height through the years as they grew. It’s difficult not to compare the height of the children and the height of the water line evident across the beams of the room.
The mothers of the girls show us the living room window that they managed to get open as the frigid, brown water quickly rose throughout the house. They formed an assembly line between families in order to pass their mementos and special possessions out of one house and into the higher ground of the other.
School has recently resumed and the girls are dressed in their school uniforms, but after they tell Butler about the flood, they’re ready to play with him in the yard. With the three children armed with treats, Butler races between them with his tail wagging as the girls laugh. A tennis ball is found and soon the girls are throwing Butler the ball and chasing after him when he decides to play keep-away. As their mothers watch, they remark on how good it is to see the girls do something as normal again as playing in the yard. The recovery and rebuilding of their homes will go on for months, but the big smiles on the children’s faces indicate that their visit with Butler helped them be carefree kids at least for a little while.
Check out The Weather Channel video below to see Butler and Amy in action: