Freesia, a very good dog, inspires donation to her NH trainers

Freesia's training makes her an ideal 'facility dog' helping kids with autism.

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Freesia, at Bierman Autism Center in Warren, R.I., with her handler Maeve London. Photo/Courtesy of Bierman Autism Centers

NORTH CONWAY, NH – Freesia, a recent graduate of Assistance Canine Training Service, has been such a hit at her new home in Rhode Island that her people have made a donation in her honor to ACTS.

Bierman Autism Centers, of Warren, R.I. chose ACTS as the recipient of its annual $1,000 holiday donation to recognize the work Freesia is doing there.

ACTS dogs are raised by volunteers across New England, and Freesia was raised by Steven Hayden and Monica Philbin, of Meredith. She completed a two-year training program with ACTS. She graduated last year and in November was teamed with Maeve London, an occupational therapist working with children diagnosed with autism at Bierman.

Freesia is a “facility dog,” rather than a service dog, which means she belongs to a community, rather than one individual. “While our service dogs profoundly affect the life of one person, our facility dogs touch the lives of many,” said Kathy Metz, executive director of ACTS, in a news release announcing the donation.

Her handler says Freesia, a Labrador, has been changing lives and helping people every day in the three months since she arrived in Rhode Island.

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Freesia was trained at Assistance Canine Training Services in North Conway, and raised by volunteers Steven Hayden and Monica Philbin, of Meredith. Photo/Courtesy of Bierman Autism Centers

Freesia is “everyone’s favorite coworker,” and she increases morale and supports her team with enthusiasm. “I am forever grateful to ACTS and Bierman for making this partnership possible, and to Freesia for being the best therapist on four paws,” London said.

“Working with Freesia has enhanced my therapy in innumerable ways,” she added. “ACTS did a fantastic job preparing her to work with children.”

Freesia’s duties may include putting on a costume to target dressing skills, catching a ball thrown for upper limb coordination or “reading” obedience commands written out by clients, among many other things. In all her duties, Freesia increases engagement and therapeutic outcomes every day, London said.

Bierman Autism Centers is for children up to 9 years old, teaching them to engage in play and learn foundational skills, such as self-advocacy and communication.

Metz said that ACTS is proud of the work Freesia is doing at Bierman, and is also grateful for the donation. “Freesia is a wonderful example of the important work being done by our ACTS dogs,” she said.

Freesia came to ACTS from NEADS World Class Service Dogs, in Princeton, Mass., one of many dogs the organization acquires, trains and then places. ACTS, while based in North Conway, also has training sites in Tuftonboro and at the University of Vermont. The early puppy raising is done by volunteers from throughout the region, like Hayden and Philbin, who initially raised Freesia. 

ACTS was founded in 2007 by Dorothy Hyde-Williams, of Tuftonboro, in memory of her son Nate, who died at 23 in a 2005 bicycle accident. The organization, a nonprofit, is officially under the umbrella of the Nathaniel J. Williams Foundation. It raises, trains and places assistance dogs for individuals with disabilities as well as organizations, like Bierman, and clinicians working with individuals who have emotional, psychological, developmental or physical problems. 


About this Author

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is a contract reporter and content producer for consumer financial agencies. She has worked for northern New England publications, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, for 25 years, and most recently at Mainebiz in Portland, Maine. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.