By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University.
When a disaster strikes, what do we need? First aid, emergency help, transportation, supplies, and more. Maybe we also need something to lift our spirits, in the way that only a good dog can do. Today we’ll meet a remarkable Kansan whose dog’s role in disaster recovery has taken him into print, across the nation and beyond.
Matt Deighton is an entrepreneur and former volunteer coordinator in Greensburg. Matt has deep roots in rural Kansas. In fact, his great-great-great-uncle founded the town of Dighton, although the spelling was changed by a surveyor. Matt’s mother came from Stafford County and his dad came from the rural community of Rozell, population 176 people. Now, that’s rural.
When Matt’s dad became the Kiowa county road supervisor, the family moved to Greensburg where Matt finished school. He took engineering training and became Lane County engineer before joining some friends in Waco, Texas. Two important things happened in Texas: One, he co-founded a restaurant called Buzzard Billy’s which would become world famous, and two, he found a Dalmatian puppy named Molly.
“I went to look at a litter of Dalmatians, and Molly came home with me,” Matt said. Eventually he moved back home to Greensburg to become a caregiver for his parents. After his dad passed away, Matt found the dog was a loving and comforting companion. “She was wonderful medicine.”
Then came May 4, 2007. A devastating F-5 tornado destroyed most of the town of Greensburg, including the Deighton’s home. “I came out of that basement with four things,” Matt said: “The clothes on my back, my mother, Molly the Dalmatian, and my faith in God.”
When he came out of the basement, a bolt of lightning revealed the devastation around him. Within one hour, he pulled 31 people out of the rubble. Eventually he and other survivors were taken on a bus to the shelter in nearby Haviland. Molly had been told to stay with his mother and had faithfully done so. She accompanied them to the shelter, where she befriended the survivors. Matt noticed how her presence seemed to calm and encourage those around her.
After the devastation, Greensburg received a flood of volunteers which presented another management challenge. Matt Deighton was asked to become volunteer coordinator. “I told them I would take the job if I could bring my dog to work every day,” Matt said, and the deal was done. After the initial recovery of the community, Molly became a lobby dog for the local veterinarian.
During this time, Matt was living in a FEMA trailer. In the evenings, he started experimenting with various types of seasonings. He came up with a blend of cooking spices that he really liked. It had no MSG and was low in sodium. Since duct tape (sometimes called duck tape) was something that had really come in handy after the tornado, he decided to call this new blend of spices Duck Salt. The product took off and is now being sold as a fundraiser by non-profit groups across the central U.S. For more information, go to www.ducksalt.com.
Meanwhile, Molly the Dalmatian became so popular that she began to get fan mail. Matt decided to capture her story. Eventually he self-published a children’s book called Molly and the Tornado. The book is based on the true story of Matt and Molly’s experience in Greensburg and includes storm safety tips for kids.
The book also took off. For more information, go to www.mollyandthetornado.com. Matt now works closely with the New York Says Thank You Foundation and other disaster service organizations. “It’s about paying it forward,” Matt said. He has presented his message of disaster recovery and resilience all over the nation and as far away as Sendi, Japan. He and Molly even walked the red carpet at New York’s Tribeca Film Festival.
When a disaster strikes, there are lots of things we need, but let’s not forget the encouraging presence that a loving pet can provide. We salute Matt Deighton and Molly for making a difference in the lives of others. She was a good dog.