Story by Patricia Billinger; photos by Bill Fortune
During a small gathering Saturday in the Black Forest community of Colorado, about two dozen people shared a tearful moment as they mourned lives lost, celebrated new friendships and witnessed the joy that a new puppy can bring into the life of someone who has lost everything.
Red Cross workers, community volunteers and members of the Black Forest community looked on during a special moment as Black Forest resident Darrell Fortner was presented with the gift of a new, trained puppy provided by a collaboration local people who wanted to help.
Fortner lost his dogs, cats, home and belongings to the Black Forest fire.
When the Red Cross opened aid stations in the Black Forest community where affected residents could stop by for water, snacks, clean-up items, emotional support and health services, Fortner started coming by on a regular basis.
That’s where he met Chief Warrant Officer II Brennan Avants and his team of Army volunteers from the 4th Combat Aviation Brigade. Avants and his fellow soldiers had signed up to give their time helping the Red Cross with a variety of needs, from moving heavy bulk supplies to helping in the warehouse to handing out clean-up kits and other items at the distribution sites in the Black Forest.
“Since we’ve been at the site, Darrell’s been a daily presence there, talking with us, crying on our guys’ shoulders, getting water, offering his tree removal service for free to help his neighbors who couldn’t afford it on their own,” Avants said. “We decided we had to do something for him.”
And then, Charlotte Romero of the Black Forest Animal Sanctuary stopped by the Red Cross bulk distribution site to offer assistance to anyone affected by the wildfire who needed help for their animal-related needs. A Red Cross emergency response vehicle driver passed along her information to Avants, who reached out to her to explore avenues for finding a new dog to brighten Darrell’s life.
The Black Forest Animal Sanctuary got Vom Dortmunder German Shepherds to donate a full-bred obedience-trained German Shepherd puppy to Fortner – the puppy that he joyfully and tearfully embraced Saturday at the distribution site that brought all of these separate lives and stories together.
“This is such a touching example of how a community can come together to help people affected by disaster. It is always gratifying when we can help provide the hub that enables people to connect with one another, to meet unmet needs, and to share a deeply human experience,” said Jaici Murcia, operations director for the Red Cross Colorado Wildfires disaster response.