Therapy dog

Seamus sits with his dad, Bob Collinsworth, at the Monadnock Region Child Advocacy Center, where Collinsworth is a family support specialist and Seamus is "interning" as a therapy dog.

When Seamus was surrendered to Monadnock Humane Society (MHS) two years ago, everyone knew he had that special something.

He came to MHS at a young age after his family made the difficult decision to surrender him — he was more than they could handle given their life circumstances. He was so good-natured and happy-go-lucky! Even a bit goofy.

His new family could tell that someday he might make a great therapy dog, and they began exploring the possibilities. Bob Collinsworth, Seamus’ owner, works for the Monadnock Region Child Advocacy Center in Keene as a family support specialist and could see Seamus’ potential for helping children right away — especially those who are victims of physical and sexual abuse.

Seamus’ family was familiar with Monadnock Therapy Pets, a small local group of volunteers who put the power of pets into helping people’s health in many places throughout Cheshire County. Monadnock Therapy Pets was founded in 2009 by professional trainer Amee Abel: “Monadnock Therapy Pets has been supporting therapy dog work in the region for the past 10 years. We’ve helped over 60 dog and handler teams become certified to make clients, young and old, feel better.”

When Seamus’ owners reached out to Abel to inquire about Seamus as a therapy dog with a specific focus on children who are victims of abuse, she was encouraging.

“Calm, comforting cuddly dogs can help a child overcome fear — whether they are offering reading assistance, or calming test anxiety or helping a child recount a traumatic event,” she said. “The power of that warm body and steady heartbeat is undeniable. They empower children. These dogs work magic.”

Seamus was enrolled in a therapy pet class through Monadnock Humane Society’s Guinane Training Center where Abel teaches, and he completed the course this past spring. Now, he’s working toward certification with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and will need to complete his internship, which he is currently doing at the Monadnock Region Child Advocacy Center.

In a short time, Seamus has already worked his magic in helping this population of children deal with extremely difficult situations and experiences.

Carlos Agudelo, program coordinator/forensic interviewer at the Monadnock Region Child Advocacy Center, said Seamus makes a difference just by being himself.

“Many times, children arrive in a state of high anxiety,” he said. “Seamus provides instant relief.”

He continued, almost in amazement, “It’s visual! You can see how children come in and are uptight, and then Seamus sits next to them and immediately disarms them.”

Agudelo has observed on many occasions how Seamus seems to be able to read emotions and is highly intuitive.

“Even the caregivers respond to Seamus,” Agudelo said, adding that not everyone is fond of dogs, and in those rare instances Seamus remains quietly in one of the offices.

Seamus being there fits in perfectly with the center’s mission to provide all victims of child abuse in New Hampshire a neutral environment where justice, healing, equity and prevention are fostered through the consistent, high-quality and sustaining collaboration of community partners.

Agudelo wonders how they ever did it without Seamus. His service to this population of children has been significant.

Bob Collinsworth says that as soon as kids see Seamus they’re hooked.

“He’s simply a live giant Muppet who regardless of size is very unassuming and welcoming,” Collinsworth said. “Seamus is a gentle and seemingly intuitive dog who time after time knows which child is in need – and immediately goes to them.”

When Seamus does seek out a child in need, he sits directly beside the child, either on the floor or at their feet or curled up beside them (depending on their comfort level).

“Seamus and the child continue to bond during the initial meeting, and he gives them something tangible and safe to touch that reflects needed understanding and unconditional love,” Bob Collinsworth said. “He simply provides them with comfort in the most uncomfortable situation.”

Once the child begins the forensic interview, which is the integral part of the evaluation process, Seamus will typically wait for the child in the family room. The forensic interview is always conducted at a pace determined by the child and if at any point they would like to take a break and visit Seamus before proceeding, they are afforded that choice.

The benefits of therapy pets are plentiful and there is much research to prove those benefits. Kathy Collinsworth, executive director of Monadnock Humane Society and also Seamus’ owner, has recognized this since she began working there three years ago. With a mission to strengthen the animal-human bond by promoting and providing for the well-being of animals, this healing relationship with the Child Advocacy Center and Monadnock Therapy Pets aligns perfectly for MHS, and she is grateful to be able to partner with both organizations.

“Seamus is one of many therapy pets who are receiving training through the therapy pets course taught at MHS,” Kathy said. “Once these pets are fully certified, many times they continue on to serve as volunteers in the community through Monadnock Therapy Pets.”

Kathy also notes that being around the children is a wonderful experience for Seamus as well.

“He loves to comfort the children,” she said. “We can see in his face that he is totally enjoying the experience. He benefits from the relationship as much as they do!”

Carol Laughner is the Marketing Communications Manager at Monadnock Humane Society. Monadnock Humane Society is a private, nonprofit organization that serves the Monadnock Region, which includes 44 communities. MHS cares for an average of 1,400 animals each year with a staff of 28 and the help of over 250 volunteers.

Its mission is to strengthen the animal-human bond by promoting and providing for the well-being of animals. MHS receives no state or federal funding and is not affiliated with any other agency or organization. It is supported solely by the generosity of those in our community. For more information, visit monadnockhumanesociety.org.

Monadnock Region Child Advocacy Center is a program of the Granite State Children’s Alliance. Located in Keene, this center serves children throughout Cheshire County. The mission of the Granite State Children’s Alliance Child Advocacy Centers is to provide all victims of child abuse in New Hampshire a neutral environment where justice, healing, equity and prevention are fostered through the consistent, high quality and sustaining collaboration of community partners. For more information, visit cac-nh.org.

Monadnock Therapy Pets is an organization with a mission to provide support throughout the Monadnock region for therapy dog teams, for facilities that welcome therapy dog visits and people who want to learn more about therapy dog work. For more information, visit facebook.com/MonadnockTherapyPets or contact Amee Abel at motherapypets@gmail.com.