JOHN DAY — Feeling helpless against the raging Canyon Creek Complex fire that has threatened her Dean Creek cabin adjacent to Upper Pine Creek, Yvonne Pepin-Wakefield has handled the trauma by helping others with her two certified therapy dogs, Zachary and Henry.
She stayed several days at the fire camp in John Day, sharing her dogs at the Grant County Fairgrounds while waiting for news about her cabin’s fate.
She has seen the soothing benefits her pets have on others, especially firefighters and fire personnel.
“Here at 5:30 a.m., big burly guys came up — at first they had a stern expression — and as soon as they see the dogs, they get a big smile,” she said.
Part of having therapy dogs is also sitting down to talk with people.
“One Native American woman told me all about her life and took three stuffed-animal dogs for her children,” she said.
The basket of toys was donated by New Hope for Eastern Oregon Animals.
“Some say, ‘Thank you, this is the best part of our day,’” Pepin-Wakefield said.
She noticed the dogs were especially needed last Friday, the day before the winds changed direction and fire threatened Prairie City.
She has, perhaps, needed the calm her therapy dogs bring, as much as anyone.
While her cabin is a getaway spot, and not a primary residence, it holds special significance to Pepin-Wakefield.
She built the remote home at age 18 with help from some local residents — the property, 80 acres at the time, was purchased with inheritance money from her father.
“So many people helped build that cabin,” she said. “They’re my family because I didn’t have one.”
An artist and author, Pepin-Wakefield was traveling to her Grant County cabin from her home in The Dalles to edit a project on Aug. 14, the day the Canyon Creek fire first blew out of control.
In the last two weeks, she spent nine days at the fire camp, sleeping in the bed of her pickup.
In The Dalles, she volunteers with her dogs through the nonprofit Love on a Leash, visiting cancer patients at Mid-Columbia Medical Center.
They “reduce their anxiety and stress while the patients are in the hospital,” she said.
Henry has also helped children with learning disabilities with the Read to Rover program.
“Those same healing and communicative principles apply on a fire line,” Pepin-Wakefield said.
The empathy has gone both ways.
When the fire roared to life near her cabin last week, she said she started to get teary-eyed.
“I went back to the camp, and a big firefighter from Bend asked how I was doing,” she said.
He gave her a hug.
“It was really neat because every morning he would come and check on me,” she added.
So far, her cabin has survived the Canyon Creek Complex fire, but at last check the fire was still burning 500 feet away.
Allowing others to enjoy holding her dogs turned out to be a benefit to her as well, said Pepin-Wakefield, who had to return to The Dalles last weekend.
“The only thing I could do was share the therapy dogs,” she said.