Stronger Together

by Jessica Hallett

Feb. 14, 2018, started off like any day, like any Valentine’s Day.

A day known for its celebration of friendships and relationships  was suddenly broken in Parkland, Fla., at around 2:30 p.m., when a shooter opened fire inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, killing 17 and injuring 17 others.

On that Wednesday, a school was broken. Families and friendships became broken as a result of a senseless act of violence.

Historically, in the wake of tragedy, people come together as a support network for others. In the case of this event, across the county, state, and country, people have helped aid the victims and their families with donations. A memorial covers the front lawn of Stoneman Douglas High School, full of flowers, cards, posters, gifts, and more to commemorate those that lost their lives on that fateful day. GoFundMe accounts for those affected have raised nearly $2 million. Vigils have been held in Parkland, at other Broward County schools, and at universities across the state.

All over, people have come together to support this cause.

The harness racing world itself is a closely integrated network, in which news spreads like wildfire, and many people with ties to harness racing were directly affected by this tragedy. Rick Schaut, son of trainer-driver Rick Schaut, is a police officer with the neighboring city of Coral Springs Police Department. He was one of the first to arrive on the scene. Dan Daley, son of Dan and Ann-Mari Daley, is the vice mayor of Coral Springs and played a major part in maintaining the peace in his city as well as speaking to the world on the issue at hand. Longtime horseman Jamie Marra is a special agent with the Florida Department of Law  Enforcement  (FDLE),  the  state’s criminal investigative agency. Miami region FDLE special agents were part of the mutual aid response to the school.

And Kayla Schaefer, daughter of Pompano Park farrier Jeff Schaefer and his wife, Marie, is a junior at Stoneman Douglas High School and was in the school during the shooting.

“Kayla was texting us from her class as the shooter was advancing through the hallway,” said Marie. “We called 911 and the police were using us to ask her where she was exactly and what she was hearing to attempt to locate and capture the shooter.”

Thankfully, Kayla survived the shooting, but the aftermath was heart- rending, according to Marie.

“The first thing we did was turn off the  TV,”  she  said.  “We  went  to  coun- seling sessions organized by the school board. We met many amazing coun- selors and Kayla was able to spend  time with her friends there. Then, we attended various events where, again, the community and friends held hands, cried, and prayed. It was and it  has been a difficult time. Our children and our community saw and  experienced  so much.

“We  attended  Carmen  Schentrup’s funeral. Carmen was in AP psychology with Kayla when the event occurred. I used to work with her mom, April, as she was my assistant principal at West Hollywood Elementary.”

Prior to that Wednesday, Kayla had been asking her parents for a Jack Rus- sell terrier puppy. After the tragedy, her parents agreed to get her one.

“We decided on getting another dog to bring some joy to Kayla’s life,” said Marie. “She was not sleeping well and had flashbacks of what she had just survived.”

But finding a Jack Russell terrier puppy locally had been nearly impossible. However, a group of horsemen found it

in their hearts to embark on this tough mission. While standing along the edge of the track after a night at the races, they got the ball rolling. Those contributing to this cause include Cheri Clarke, Jamie Marra, Maggie and Marianne Audley, and Dr. Stacy Furgang.

Clarke, who is married to Edgar “Sparky” Clarke, first initiated the con- versation and told the group that the Schaefers had agreed to look for a Jack Russell terrier puppy.

Marra, who shares his birth date with Kayla, is a member of the Florida

Amateur Drivers Club, which donates money to various charities every month. He was quick to act when he heard Kayla asked for a puppy.

“It was tough to find, but it was such an easy decision to make to help her,” he said.

After hours of searching as far away as Missouri, Marra found a Jack Russell terrier puppy.

“Jamie deployed a whole task force spanning several states and spent countless hours on the phone to find Kayla  her  therapy  dog,”  said  Marie.

“When Jamie mentioned the search to Troy Walker (special agent in charge of the FDLE Miami Regional Operations Center), he set up an effort that included several FDLE agents across the state to deliver the puppy to Kayla.

“This outpouring of love and generosity is truly humbling.”

The puppy was eight hours from Kay- la’s  home  and  would  need  a  ride  to join her new family. Marianne Audley

offered to drive north of her farm to pick up the puppy and then drive the remaining hours to south Florida.

“We made the decision to help find this puppy and get the puppy from its initial home to its new home because we knew how many people were affect- ed and it was just something small to help the Schaefer family,” said Maggie Audley,   Marianne’s   daughter.   “Jamie had called us and said that the Schaefers were looking for a puppy for their daughter to help her get through the traumatic experience and asked us to put the word out on the search. Mom drove up and picked up the puppy,  made sure the puppy was well-cared for and good to go.”

Marra, the Audleys, and J D Yoder and his fiancé, Cheyenne, are all neighbors at the Gilcrest Training Center in Bell, Fla. At the last minute, they decided instead of handing the puppy off to different people, Marianne and J D would do the transport, with Cheyenne caring for the puppy on the 330-mile drive from Gilcrest to Pompano Park.

The puppy had  a comfortable trip to south Florida—riding on Cheyenne’s lap—and arrived safely at Pompano Park. It was then driven to its new and forever home with the Schaefer family. Kayla named the puppy Gracie J: Gracie  for  Kayla’s  great-grandmother,

Grace, and J for Jamie Marra.

Dr. Furgang, track veterinarian at Pompano, was among the horsemen present that Saturday night when this plan came together. She also met with Kayla and Gracie J to give the pup its first round of vaccinations and to pres- ent a health certificate.

“The  reason  I  got  involved  and  offered my veterinary services for Kayla’s new puppy was that I, myself, am a Parkland resident and I was heartbroken   by   this   tragedy,”   she   said. “While a puppy cannot change what these students have gone through or take away what they have seen, focusing their energy on something positive will help with the healing process.

“Animals are an incredible source of comfort during times of distress. They provide unconditional love and a safe friend in which to confide.”

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