Happy pup is 'comfort companion' for firefighters

Halligan was dropped off at the station after being found in a ditch by a city worker plowing snow

By Steven M. Grazier
The Independent

LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP, Ohio — He sits, shakes hands, listens well and barks very little.

Some might call him quiet and shy. There's no doubt he brings big smiles to just about everyone he meets.

Meet Halligan, a previously injured canine cared for by North Lawrence Fire Department personnel, who's come to return the gift of good health by boosting the spirits of his new family — just by being in the room.

The newest member of the Fire Department has seemingly assumed the role of morale officer since joining the ranks late last year. And it was almost by accident he came on board.

The dog was dropped off at the station on Dec. 11 by a Stark County Engineer's Office worker who was plowing snow, and found Halligan injured in a ditch along Wooster Street NW, according to Heidi Knight, a part-time volunteer firefighter and emergency medic at the fire station. The worker noticed the dog on his first pass with the snow plow, and while clearing the other lane a bit later, stopped to pick him up.

He determined that the dog needed immediate care and was in proximity to the fire station. So the man dropped off the pup to be warmed up and fed.

Knight said the dog was nearly frozen solid and could not move when he got to the station.

"He was freezing and filthy, and covered in mud from head to paw," said Knight, who with Elliot Lee, an incident safety officer for the Fire Department, is assigned to Halligan and helps with his ongoing recovery.

The 2-year-old lab and pit-bull mix underwent veterinary treatment for three weeks for frost bite injuries to his tail, thighs, paws, ears and belly, Knight said. He weighed 35 pounds when found in December and has since bulked up to near normal weight at about 50 pounds.

Halligan, who has shiny black and white fur, is walking and wagging his tail often, and is almost back to full strength.

Posted by Halligan The Fire Station Therapy Dog on Tuesday, March 14, 2017

"By mid-January, he got his energy back and has become a fluffy (happy) pup," Lee said. "He's been a mainstay and comfort companion here for everyone."


Personnel at the Fire Department pitch in money to purchase food, toys, medicine and fund obedience training for Halligan, who's named after a tool firefighters use to force entry into a burning home. He's often the first to be greeted by firefighters after they return to the station from an emergency call, Lee said.

"It's kind of his thing to meet us when we come back. He can bring a smile when you really need one," Lee said, adding that Halligan quickly became popular throughout the department.

"As shifts came in to work, they didn't want to get rid of him," Lee said. "All three shifts take care of him."

Added North Lawrence Fire Chief Jason Rock, "The crews have really pulled together to care for him."

Attempts have been made to locate the dog's original owner. Calls to area veterinarians were placed, as well as messages posted on Facebook seeking information about anyone searching for a lost dog matching Halligan's description. He was found with no collar, dog tag or microchip.

The snow-plow driver who discovered Halligan even stops by the fire station, 4052 Alabama Ave. NW, on occasion to bring him food and check on his health, said Knight. Firefighters frequently swing by work to say hello to Halligan on their off days.

"Everyone seems to take right to him," Knight said.

Candy Davis-Cooke, a dog trainer at PetSmart in Massillon, said she perks up when Halligan walks in the facility for his weekly obedience training session, where he's learning the basics of sit, stay and heel.

"He's got a great personality and listens well," said Davis-Cooke, noting that Halligan is a bit on the quiet side. "He'll make an excellent service dog."

Halligan attends class with about seven other dogs, according to Davis-Cooke, who said he'll advance to learn how to work with the public, behave around people he doesn't know and obey commands from a distance.

"He's off to a great start," she said.


Although he's still working into his role as a therapy dog, Halligan's presence at the station is already helping to lower stress levels and provide emotional support to firefighters and medics, Lee said. He wears a red vest at times and is considered a member of the department.

Therapy dogs are oftentimes welcome arrivals in hospitals and nursing homes, where the stroke of a loving animal's fur and its wagging tail can brighten spirits. Lee said the Fire Department is hopeful Halligan can help enhance its public outreach by visiting area schools and the elderly.

In addition, Lee said, the department wants to take the dog on the road to help comfort children after a catastrophic event, such as a house fire or fatal crash.

"Right now he's our therapy dog. Eventually, we hope he'll come to be the community's dog," he said.

Copyright 2017 The Independent

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