When Grace Coleman, president and CEO of Crisis Center North (CCN), first spotted a small puppy at Action for Animals shelter in Latrobe, PA, she knew there was something special about the mixed breed border collie/spaniel. Though she hadn’t planned to have another pet, she couldn’t leave her in the shelter.
“I know this sounds silly, but she told me that we had a job to do,” said Coleman, the daughter of a veterinarian. “We already had a dog, but I knew I had to take her because there was something that we were supposed to do together. And she made good on that promise.”
When Penny passed away at almost 16 years of age this June, she left behind a legacy that is not only respected in Pittsburgh, but is being copied at domestic violence shelters and in court settings across the country. Penny helped the victims of domestic violence that CCN serves and also became a well-known court advocate, accompanying victims to court to provide comfort during testimony.
“I did not get her with the intention of doing this, but when she was 2, she began going to the center with me to provide stress management for our team while also serving as my muse when I was grant writing,” said Coleman. “A little boy who was scared to go into his therapy session was comforted by her, and I suggested that he take her into his session to keep him company. He told her everything.”
Penny began working in the therapy department with both children and adults, and in 2013, went into the court system, where she excelled at keeping domestic violence victims comfortable and safe.
“She was so intuitive and was an excellent diagnostician,” said Coleman. “She had a natural talent to diagnose anxiety versus depression with 100 percent accuracy. She could tell if there was a gun in the court and would bump her handler to let them know. She was born to work and would do anything I asked her to do.”
As a result, Penny opened up a role for canines in the domestic violence movement and victim services, which has resulted in shelters across the country utilizing shelter dogs in these roles.
“She inspired clients because she showed them that even if bad things happen to you, it is not your final story,” said Coleman. “That’s quite a resume for a little shelter dog.”