The battle to bring Mattie home

Seamus and Áine with Mattie


By Ray O’Hanlon

Mattie should be at home with her family.

That’s the view of the family.

Mattie the dog would agree. But’s she's being kept elsewhere.

Deirdre and Seamus Fennessy just want her to be home with them.

Seamus is familiar to many Echo readers.

He is probably the only member of the United States Army who patrolled the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan thinking infantry tactics in Irish.

Séamus Ó Fianghusa is his name As Gaeilge.

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He is a former Irish Echo 40 Under 40 Award winner.

And he misses Mattie.

Seamus lives with Deirdre and their daughter Áine in Old Bridge, New Jersey.

Another daughter, Olivia, is away in college.

Seamus, a staff sergeant in the Army National Guard, is currently on active duty. Before that he was working for a security company along with his partner “my bomb-sniffing K9 Mattie” who is close to retirement, but, as far as the Fennessys are concerned, is being held in inhumane confinement.

“We’re the only family she has ever known,” Seamus said of Mattie.

“But the company I worked for has torn her from our family and left us devastated and it is in their power to do the right thing and return her to us.”

The company in question is MSA Security.

Mattie, the dog in question, is a seven-year-old Black Labrador.

With Seamus on active duty, this time around in the U.S., Deirdre is leading the charge in attempting to bring Mattie home.

She has started a petition on The petition has attracted more than 6,000 signatures. The original target was 5,000.

"Our entire family, including extended family, is devastated. Mattie will be too. She’s never had another handler in her entire seven years of life," Fennessy said in an email to the news website, My Central Jersey.

"They (MSA) could retire her," she said.

According to My Central Jersey, MSA’s website describes itself as America's largest TSA-certified cargo screening canine provider, specializing in explosive detection canines.

Like Mattie.

Seamus says the company only hires police and military veterans to work as K-9 handlers.

"We do an important job, protecting important sites in the New York area," he told MCJ.

During the time Seamus worked for MSA, Mattie was his only K-9 partner. In addition, Mattie has never worked with any other handlers, Deirdre Fennessy said.

Seamus and Deirdre acknowledge that Mattie is legally MSA’s property.

The company, nevertheless, has declined to comment thus far.

In the meantime, however, local politicians have started taking an interest in the Mattie tale.

New Jersey State Senator Samuel Thompson (R-12th District) has written a letter to MSA Security in New York City asking for Mattie to be returned to the Fennessys.

"I agree with the family's position," Thompson, who has had dogs for his whole life, said in a telephone interview with MCJ. "It's the humane thing to do, let them keep the dog."

"Mattie, who is undoubtedly an asset to your firm, was taken from the Fennessy household to be reassigned to another handler. However, my office found out that when handlers are called up for military service it is the usual policy of MSA Security to allow the service dog to remain in the care of the primary handler. Therefore I implore MSA Security to reconsider and reverse the decision to reassign Mattie to another handler," Thompson said in his letter to MSA.

Mattie is right now at MSA's training facility in Windsor, Connecticut.

Thompson told My Central Jersey that he believes separation will have a negative impact on Mattie's mental health and work performance.

"Emotional pain and stress will be a factor in the dog's life from the time she is removed, especially when realization sets in that Mattie has been separated from her family and the only home she had known," Thompson said in his letter.

In the letter, Thompson said research by his office indicates that an average large breed dog is considered a senior at 5 to 6 dog years, and veterinarians have estimated that any breed of dog is considered a senior at 7 to 8 dog years.

"Senior dogs begin to lose their adaptability to the world around them because of eroding cognitive functions," Thompson's letter states.

"A senior dog is also prone to many diseases and they will struggle with stress more frequently. Stress can cause behavioral problems, a weak immune system and much more. With that known, these particular effects will make the dog less productive.

"If Mattie begins to show the symptoms of separation anxiety, her performance as a detection dog will not serve the company's best interest. With this in mind, I believe removing her from the Fennessy household will create a hardship for the dog and those that love her," Thompson's letter states.

Thompson is himself an army veteran. He wants MSA Security to grant Mattie an early retirement which will allow her to remain with the Fennessys.

"The dog should not be removed solely because Mr. Fennessy was activated for military service. Similarly would MSA take away the dog if a handler was summoned for jury duty," Thompson's letter states.