How American-made Trouble the Dog is Bringing Comfort During Challenging Times

By Elizabeth Brotherton-Bunch
Trouble the Dog, who is manufactured in the United States, was created with the mission of bringing hope to kids who need it the most. | Photos courtesy Sheila Duncan

The adorable stuffed pup long has helped kids cope in a crisis, and he’s doing it again.

It’s been about four years since we first met Trouble the Dog, the sweet plush toy whose mission is to bring hope to children going through tough times.

Trouble has comforted kids during tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing, Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

Now, Trouble is helping people across the country during the current coronavirus crisis.

Sheila Duncan, who created the character alongside her niece, reports that parents have reached out to her to tell her that kids are using Trouble the Dog as a coping mechanism while sheltering at home.

One little girl holds Trouble during Zoom calls with her classmates, Duncan said. Another little boy spent a day painting a picture of Trouble, with his dad relaying that “certainly right now, kids are going through so much. Trouble is so needed.”

Then there was the grandmother who contacted Duncan directly to ask if she could deliver a Trouble toy to her granddaughter, a grown-up nurse at a hospital who is helping to treat coronavirus patients.

“She said, ‘I’m so worried about her, and she’s so brave, and I want to be able to deliver some comfort,’” Duncan recalled.

Trouble the Dog is unique among stuffed toys in that he was specifically designed to help young people in crisis. Duncan’s niece, Kendra, drew Trouble the Dog after watching a telethon to benefit children with cancer. Duncan helped develop the character, including through two books.

But that’s not the only way Trouble is different. He’s also manufactured in the United States, a rarity in the toy market.

Trouble the Dog costs $39.99, more than many stuffed toys sold at the big box stores, although Duncan said she isn’t hearing complaints about cost as often as she used to.

“I think people are slowly understanding that people are being paid a fair wage, it’s quality, it’s a keepsake toy that makes your kids feel safe and comforted,” she said. “How can you put a price tag on that?”

Still, not everyone can afford a Trouble toy, especially young people in crisis. In order to help kids facing especially challenging circumstances, Duncan launched a foundation that distributes Trouble the Dog to first responders, hospitals, schools, and others that help kids directly. 

Trouble also has been given to young people undergoing chemotherapy and other medical treatment, along with kids with autism and others who have trouble expressing their emotions.

Duncan hopes to continue to expand Trouble’s reach, including in an upcoming book that will feature a new character who will help Trouble when he is facing a tough time.

Interestingly enough, the illustrator of the new book has a daughter who received one of the original Trouble the Dog toys well over a decade ago when her parents were going through a divorce, Duncan said. She still has her Trouble. 

“[The illustrator] said, ‘it’s my honor to do this. Trouble’s been a part of my family since day one,’” Duncan noted.

Duncan’s ultimate goal is to turn Trouble into a cartoon. “It can be funny and heartwarming and all that, but the gist of it will be to help kids navigate stuff like this, the bumps of the road in life,” she said.

In the meantime, Trouble the Dog will continue to offer comfort to kids across the country as they navigate the current crisis. Duncan said she’s long believed there’s something magical about Trouble, and that’s something she hopes stays with people after the country opens up again. 

“Hopefully after all this is said and done, people will be kinder and maybe listen a little more, and do the right thing,” she said.

“I think it’s really a time to really listen to what kids are saying, and I think that’s happening,” she added. “I think that the kids, based on my experience with Trouble, is that the kids have always told me how much comfort he brings them, how he makes them feel. Now the parents are reiterating to me what the kids are saying. … People are finally more open to the depths of Trouble the Dog. It’s not doom and gloom, it’s not darkness. It’s just more depth.”