Support Dog Brings Hope to a Recovery High School
Franklin O’Neill lends a paw to help students stay on the path to a healthy life.
Mary + Franklin
A recovery high school adopts a support dog whose compassion, love and sense of fun helps uplift a community.
"When Franklin senses a student in need of support, he doesn’t waste time in seeking them out, those soulful eyes of his meeting theirs as they pull him close."
I work as an art teacher at a recovery high school in Massachusetts. It’s a small school, with about 40 students, and all have a diagnosed substance use disorder. In April 2018, we lost a student to an overdose. Shawn O’Neill was a great kid with a big heart, and he had desperately wanted our school to have a therapy dog on campus. His friends and family raised money in his memory to start the program and fulfill his dream.
In the search for a dog, the principal and I turned to our local animal shelter, Cape Ann Animal Aid Association. There, we quickly spotted Franklin. He was the only dog sitting down and wagging his tail. He gently licked our hands and gazed at us with the most soulful eyes. We just knew he was the one. In honor of Shawn, we named the dog Franklin O’Neill.
One of the trauma specialists we were consulting with was also a professional dog trainer. She got the students and faculty involved in the training process, and soon Franklin was a certified Facility Support Dog, specializing in recovery support. (This distinguished title really rounds out his playful and goofy personality!)
Every day, Franklin walks into the school like it’s an extension of our home, strutting down the halls, visiting the office for treats and stopping to greet students as they arrive. His presence serves as an incentive for productivity and encourages healthy coping skills. Some students report that he is the reason they want to come to school at all.
Franklin respects the journey that each one of us is traveling. For the students, he is an unbiased confidant. While he cannot actually fix their problems, he’ll be right by their side as they work through them. When Franklin senses a student in need of support, he doesn’t waste time in seeking them out, those soulful eyes of his meeting theirs as they pull him close. It’s his job, but I swear he doesn’t know it. He’s just doing what comes naturally to him.
One day, after a student passed away, a group of us sat on the floor, comforting someone who was particularly upset. A teacher gave them a gift to represent the memory of their friend. Right then, Franklin got up and walked away. I was shocked — it wasn’t like Franklin to leave a distressed student. Just as quickly, he came trotting back with a stuffed toy in his mouth and dropped it into the student’s lap. He wanted to give this person a gift, too! Amidst the pain, Franklin had brought joy — and it was exactly what we needed.
As I write this, Franklin is sitting by my side. Soon, we’ll walk back into school. The students will smile when they see him, and he’ll brighten their day. As each day passes, there is not one without gratitude for Franklin’s calming presence and generous soul. In Shawn’s memory, he is doing so much good.
Each year, the Petco Foundation invites adopters to share the story of how their adopted pet changed their lives during the annual Holiday Wishes campaign, giving the organization that they adopted from a chance to receive a grant award. This story by Mary won Cape Ann Animal Aid Association in Gloucester, Massachusetts a 2019 Holiday Wishes award.