How Coulee Creek’s Water Witch Became Star
A Dog Story

In the weeks following the September 11th tragedy in New York City, comfort and support was given to grieving workers and families by members of the Hope Crisis and Response Team, a team of canines and their handlers, who worked with the American Red Cross. The Hope Crisis and Response Team is headed by Cindy Ehlers, from Eugene Oregon, who started working with a therapy dog in 1998, after a shooting at Thurston High School in Springfield Oregon. Cindy and her Keeshond, named Bear, made weekly visits for a year to help the community recover from the shooting.

On their first visit to the school, Bear moved without a leash through many crying students, finding her way on her own to the five students whom the counselors seemed unable to comfort. Because Bear could catch the scent of fear and distress emitted by the students, she could find those who were not coping as well as others. As Ehler describes it, “She [Bear] would go sit next to them, wiggle a bit, make a funny noise, move closer to them and then make and hold eye contact. Once she made eye contact, they’d open up. Bear nestled up against one girl, who turned, looked into her eyes and immediately grabbed her around the neck in a hug and started sobbing.

On October 2, 2001, Cindy and her current therapy dog, Tekva, along with a yellow lab named Kate, handled by Pat Dickenson, were aboard a boat arranged for by the City of New York, to transport families, along with the Red Cross grief and spiritual counselors to the wreckage of the World Trade Center as a way to provide the families with some closure by enabling them to witness the scene with their own eyes. The dogs and handlers were on board to adopt a family to comfort for the journey. On board each boat were between 50 and 70 families and the dogs were free to make their own selections. It was on the ferry that Blanca Stahlman was adopted by a dog and a chain of wonderful events was set in motion.

On the evening of October 2, Blanca’s sister sent a email to Chuck and Mary Roland of Coulee Creek Labradors to tell them how much meeting Kate had meant to her sister and explaining that the therapist assisting Allison and Jacob, Blanca’s two children, felt that a dog would do wonders for them and for Blanca. Allison, at 7, was particularly devastated by her father’s death, wanting her father to come home. She wanted something to love and specifically wanted the yellow lab to love and sleep with. Were there any dogs with dispositions like Katie’s that might be available for the family? she asked. That email began an incredible display of caring and compassion.

Chuck and Mary Anne Roland determined that they had a dog, three-year-old Coulee Creek’s Water Witch that was perfect for the Stahlman family and decided to donate her. Delta Airlines agreed to fly her to New Jersey and, in fact, decorated her crate and gave her very special handling. The Iams Company donated a year’s supply of Eukanuba Dog Food. Other dog owners chipped in for a crate and veterinary expenses. Members of the Coulee Creek “Family” began corresponding via email with Shirley and their “adopted family,” offering assistance. Mike Morano, a member of the “Family” assisted the Stahlmans with housebreaking and training. Ron Leh, another member of the Family donated and installed perimeter invisible fencing, then trained the dog and her humans. Taylor Fence Company donated and set up a kennel. Other sent cash donations, which were collected and given in one check.

On November 4, 2001, Coulee Creek’s Water Witch completed her odyssey. Allison named her Starlight, “Star,” for short and she came home to New Jersey, to the family who needed her and loved her and to whom she provides comfort and love and affirmation that there is light in the darkest of times.

Allison and Star

The Kennel Club of Texarkana, Inc.