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MARBLEHEAD — Now widely used by New England police and fire departments for its ability to provide comfort to children in crisis, the plush toy, Trouble the Dog got its start in Marblehead.
It all started in 2006, when Sheila Duncan was at home with her niece one night when the St. Jude Telethon, which raises funds for the fight against childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases, started playing on TV.
At the time, the family had suffered several recent cancer losses, including the father and grandmother of Duncan’s niece and their family dog.
“(My niece) was doodling and the St. Jude Telethon came on, and she said, I have to help those kids, and she instantly drew Trouble the Dog,” said Duncan. “It was one of those divinely inspired moments.”
From there, people would request Trouble the Dog for kids who had been bullied or were struggling with anxiety, which prompted Duncan to start the Kennek Foundation, which donates the comfort toys to children who need them the most, Duncan said.
Duncan credits Gary Freedman, owner of Marblehead Opticians, for helping the Kennek Foundation get its start in 2014 — he’s been a donor from day one, she said.
Today, Trouble the Dog plush toys and its accompanying storybook are donated to first responders across New England and to Shriners Hospitals for Children in Boston and Springfield. In Springfield, Trouble has his own spot on the hospital’s wall of therapy dogs, Duncan said.
“I think the thing that really warms my heart is how grateful the first responders are,” said Duncan. “They’re just phenomenal. The stories just bring tears to your eyes because they use Trouble right at the moment of impact. It’s really powerful. I’m grateful to be able to do it. It’s much bigger than me.”
The Marblehead Police Department recently benefited from another donation of Trouble the Dogs, which will enable the department to continue to keep one of the stuffed animals in each patrol car and at the police station, according to Police Capt. Matthew Freeman.
Since receiving their first donation about three years ago, Freeman said the department’s officers have used the stuffed animals to calm children down after car crashes and domestic violence situations.
They have also been provided to children with behavioral issues who have been acting out in school, he said.
“We use those to help out children who are in crisis, or maybe where the family is in crisis, to give them something to hold onto or love,’ said Freeman. “It’s a really nice way to help kids stay calm or regain their composure through a bad situation.
“We were all kids once. We all had stuffed animals to hold onto when we were afraid. Sheila has taken that to a whole new level.”
Duncan stopped by the station last month to drop off two additional Trouble the Dog toys at the department’s request — her initial donation was 13 stuffed animals, Freeman said.
“We’re just thrilled to death to have her think of us and continue to make the donations,” he said.
Duncan said she’s found that first responders are “so passionate about helping kids and Trouble is a proven coping mechanism that gives them the ability to comfort kids when they need them the most.
“He’s a special little dog,” she said. “We call Trouble an angel in disguise because there’s a little magic to him. For years, (children) won’t go to sleep without Trouble the Dog. He’s got a spirit about him.”