Meet Edina Volunteer Barb Verhague and Her Trained Therapy Dogs

You may have seen them around town… Eddy and Sully, the trained therapy dogs, and their person Barb Verhague, volunteer with several organizations in Edina. Eddy and Sully are hard to miss. In fact, Verhague says people light up when they see them. Two highly adorable yellow labs, Eddy and Sully work their magic at Edina schools and a local senior living facility.

Verhague and Eddy started doing school volunteer work in 2012. Verhague is active with an organization called Can Do Canines that trains assistance dogs. Can Do is a nonprofit that covers the cost of training and then gives the dogs to people who need them. Eddy had been trained as an autism assistance dog but some health issues kept him from being able to fulfill that role. Verhague refers to his new status as a career change. He came to live with her and, because she knew how much time and money had been spent on his training, she wanted him to be able to put it to use. Even though he couldn’t be a full-time therapy dog, he still had skills to offer.

By 2015 the family moved and Sully, who had also had a career change, joined them. That’s the year Verhague and her team started volunteering at York Gardens and then Concord Elementary. Soon they were also paying regular visits to Southview Middle School. Currently they make three visits a week to the two schools.

Verhague alternates bringing one dog on the school visits, because they each have special skills and qualities kids respond to. At each school the dogs are there to be a calming and settling influence.

“There are usually two groups of three–four students who just sit with the dogs, for much needed love and emotional support. Each group gets about 20 minutes with the dog. And lots of conversations and concerns develop from this interaction,” Verhague says.

Sometimes the team visits schools outside of Edina before standardized tests to help everyone unwind and take a break from preparation. “The dogs just calm everybody,” she explains. “It gives the kids a break.”

Twice a month Verhague and her canine companions visit York Gardens on Parklawn Avenue. The dogs charm the residents with their skills … like opening doors by standing on their back legs and pushing the auto open pads with their paws. “It’s like a talent show every time we visit,” Verhague says with a laugh.

York Garden residents are also reminded of dogs they’ve loved over the years. “Most of them have stories about
a dog they had as a child,” Verhague says. “I love listening to them.”

“This is my way of giving back,” she says when asked what motivates her.

“I am truly blessed!”

If you are interested in volunteering your own skills—no dog required—there are plenty of ways you can give back. Melissa Zentz the activities director at York Gardens ([email protected] or 952.898.6720) and Doug Eischens the school social worker at Southview Middle School ([email protected] or 952.848.4411) would both be happy to hear from you.