OLD BRIDGE, NJ — Support is growing for a New Jersey family that’s trying to bring home Mattie, 7, a Labrador retriever who lived and worked with Seamus Fennessy for 5 years.
"Mattie is our family member," said Deirdre Fennessy, Seamus' wife.
Mattie worked to guard the United Nations alongside Seamus Fennessy as an explosive detection canine.
Fennessy is also a 20-year veteran of the United States Army who served in Afghanistan. After that, he found employment with MSA, a private security firm based in New York.
In January, Fennessy was called to active duty in the New Jersey National Guard and the family says Mattie was taken away.
"Anyone with a conscience who hears this is outraged," said Deirdre Fennessy. "It was gut-wrenching. It was one of the worst experiences of our lives."
MSA owns Mattie, but the family never imagined they would take her away after she worked and lived with the family for so long.
The family also says most dogs retire at age 8, and they believe Mattie should be allowed to live out her days with them.
"What MSA did was take his partner of five years away, destroy our family and then fired him for going on military duty," said Deirdre Fennessy.
She added that before losing his job, MSA dog handlers, including her husband, unionized.
"We believe they’re making an example out of us and using poor Mattie, an innocent creature, as their sacrificial lamb," she said.
A petition online to bring Mattie home has more 130,000 signatures. Supporters are planning to protest outside Perella Weinberg Partners — an investment firm behind MSA — in New York City on May 1,
The Fennessy's believe Mattie has been transferred to work with another handler in Texas.
"They say on their website they’re one dog, one handler policy. Apparently that's not the case," said Deirdre Fennessy.
A company spokesperson told PIX11:
"MSA’s Security’s explosive detection canine services are a matter of public and private safety. Our policies and procedures regarding our canines and handlers are subject to confidentiality and may not be discussed by MSA."
The family provided a letter from the company chairman in which he offered ‘first right of refusal’ to adopt Mattie, but only if they stopped talking to the media and posting online. The family says getting Mattie back this way could still take years, so they declined and will continue their fight.