December 12th, 2022
By Keleigh Friedrich, Director of Communications
When Jamie Carlson deployed last fall to help animals after Hurricane Ian, she couldn’t help but think back to when she first heard of RedRover during another devastating hurricane: It was 2005 and Hurricane Katrina had hit the Gulf. RedRover (then called United Animal Nations) was on the ground in Louisiana, and all Jamie wanted was to “go down and be there to help with the animals.” Instead, she did the next best thing to ensure she could help the next time disaster struck: she took the RedRover Responders volunteer training.
Since then, Jamie has deployed to care for animals rescued from puppy mills in Tennessee and North Carolina and helped build pet housing at a domestic violence shelter in Georgia. But her volunteering didn’t stop with RedRover Responders: she also took the RedRover Readers training to integrate the empathy-building curriculum into her work as an elementary school teacher in Greenville, North Carolina.
Now a fifth grade science teacher, Jamie and her students had been tracking Hurricane Ian since it first started moving.
“My students know that I have a soft spot for dogs and animals in general,” Jamie says, “so when Hurricane Ian was coming, they said, ‘You’re going to Florida to help dogs, aren’t you?’” She laughs. “I told the school I didn’t care if I was taking the days without pay. I was not asking but telling them this is what I’m going to do.”
Indeed, even as a kid Jamie knew that her purpose in life was to help animals. So, when the deployment call came, she was ready. She packed her bag, said goodbye to her husband Adam and three rescue dogs – Bailey, Ohana, and Bud – and flew down to Florida.
While driving a rental car from Tampa to Ft. Myers, Jamie started seeing downed street signs and blown-out billboards.
“Then I’d keep driving and see a few hundred feet of nothing but power lines down. That’s when it really hit me the kind of disaster area I was in.”
As usual on deployment, Jamie made fast friends with her fellow volunteers. In the relentless Florida heat, sweating without air conditioning, they bonded over their love for animals and their joy at finding an open Dunkin’ Donuts serving hot coffee on their way to the emergency shelter. It was on the second day that Jamie first saw Ruby.
“I first just referred to her as Brown Dog,” Jamie says. “She was found in the field, rescued during the storm, and had a 14-day hold period to see if her family could find her. Then she became known as ‘Jamie’s Brown Dog’ because I fell in love with her immediately.”
The first time they met, Jamie knelt down to the pup’s kennel and asked if she wanted to go outside. “She just stood up and peed everywhere because she was so scared. I [reached] into her kennel very slowly and got the leash around her, telling her she was okay.”
After taking her outside and at one point coaxing her out from behind some palm trees, it broke Jamie’s heart to have to put her back in the kennel. The next day, she was the first dog Jamie went to, and when she had extra time, she’d take her out again. “Jamie’s Brown Dog” was always the last one she tucked in for the night, promising her, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
By the third day, the pup was coming right to Jamie to get a treat, and Jamie would always tell her “I love you” when she left.
“My husband and I had this joke,” Jamie says, “that if I fly to a deployment, I can’t bring a dog back. So it was a good thing I had flown so that I couldn’t bring a dog back.”
Nevertheless, she found herself texting Adam at night telling him, “I am falling in love with this dog. I know I can’t bring her home – she’s got a 14-day hold – but I really, really like her.”
To her surprise, Adam said, “If you think she would fit into our family of dogs, we can work something out.” That was it: Jamie knew she had to find a way to get this dog back home.
As she expected, Jamie’s last day on deployment was very emotional. “I just kept feeling like this is the last time I’m going to see her,” Jamie says through tears, “and I hope the time I spent here with her building her confidence would be enough so someone else could see how great she was, so she could be adopted.”
As Jamie left, unable to hold back her tears, another volunteer assured her, “I’ll take care of Brown Dog while you’re not here.” By that time, Jamie had given her a name: Ruby.
On the plane, as Jamie silently hoped the person next to her wasn’t noticing her crying, she thought to herself, “If your family doesn’t come back for you, I will come get you. I don’t know how or when, but I will get you.”
Once home, Jamie started the adoption process in case Ruby wasn’t claimed, counting down the days until she might pick her up. She started fundraising for the trip back to Florida, selling produce through her side business, Sugar Bear Farms, as well as glasses and keychains, plants and t-shirts – anything extra to help fund Ruby’s homecoming.
Finally, on October 28, Jamie set out on a road trip to Florida with her dad as her traveling companion. On the final stretch to Ft Myers, “I had the biggest smile on my face,” Jamie says. “I was counting down the minutes like a little kid.”
Standing in line at the shelter waiting to be reunited with her special girl, Jamie was ready with a pineapple-patterned collar, a tag adorned with flowers and Ruby’s name and phone number, and a leash.
“Once it was my turn, the staff kept telling me she was their favorite dog, which made me feel good knowing I did my part. Then Ruby comes trotting down the hallway loving whoever is walking her, and I’m hugging her and kept telling her, ‘I told you I’d come back. I got you a collar with pineapples because you’re from Florida, but you’re going to the land of pine trees.’”
Ruby immediately jumped in the driver’s seat, gave Jamie and her dad kisses, and settled in for the long trip home.
Now back in North Carolina, Ruby is decompressing and finding her place in her new dog pack. And for Jamie, her family feels complete.