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Therapy dog who became a best friend to child abuse victims dies

When Argos wouldn’t, or couldn’t, get up, even to reach one of his favorite treats, Andrew Skolnick says, “I knew we were in terrible trouble.”

On Wednesday, Skolnick notified friends and admirers of the big, gentle, English Labrador retriever that Argos had died. He was 12 years old.

Argos left his mark. He was honored for his skill in hunting, retrieving and agility, but he was loved for the steady comfort he gave to those much more vulnerable than himself – children who had been physically and sexually abused.

Argos was a therapy support dog, and became a trusted friend for children who had lost their trust in people. In the past few months he came to court several times with girls who had to confront their abusers, sitting or lying quietly at their sides while they testified to a courtroom full of strangers about the worst things that ever happened to them.

Argos – known as Argie to his friends – provides that comforting presence because he already went through difficult moments with the children. He was the first of what are now about a half-dozen therapy dogs that children can use during their counseling sessions at the Lee Gross Anthone Child Advocacy Center, which serves children who have been through traumatic experiences.

Dechantal "Day" Cummings, a social worker with the center, testified last year on the importance of the dogs for the children during a hearing on whether Argos could come to court. The animals represent unquestioning acceptance. And, when the dog is as big as Argos, they bring a certain amount of strength.

In March, Argos came to court for the last time, as companion for a 10-year-old girl who had been sexually assaulted over the course of three years by a family friend. Together they saw the child’s abuser sentenced to 50 years in prison. It also was Argos’ 12th birthday.

Therapy dogs help keep abused children ‘standing strong’ in court

Even then, it was clear Argos preferred lying down to being on his feet while he basked in the attention of those who came to pet him.

But on Sunday night, Skolnick, the dog's owner and trainer, said Argos had even more trouble standing.

“I first thought it was caused by the spinal, hip and knee problems he’s been dealing with for the past two years,” Skolnick wrote.

He called Argos to go for a walk, but the dog didn’t budge.

“When that failed, I resorted to the never-fail method of tempting him with some of his favorite treats,” Skolnick writes. “When that failed, I knew we were in terrible trouble.”

Argos appeared to be paralyzed at his hips. Skolnick recruited friends to help him get the dog to the veterinarian, but doctors were unable to save the dog.

Skolnick said he probably will take Argos’ son Telly with him when he tells the dog’s young fans that he is gone.

But what Argos started will continue, Skolnick said. He still has Argos' mate, Penelope, and two of their sons – all of them "phenomenal therapy dogs," he said.

"So we will continue to help children and adults in need of a dog's support as long as I am able," he said, "In other words, Argie's love will continue to flow through them."

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