Eden Prairie’s beloved therapy dog, Mac, passed away last month while being comforted by his owner and volunteer therapy partner, Sheryl Cater.
Volunteering to make a positive difference is something many people do in their spare time, but for Mac, helping others was his life’s calling.
EPLN recently shared the story of how Cater, a retired Eden Lake Elementary gifted teacher, volunteers her time to teach students about the sport of dog sled racing.
Cater also dedicated many years to volunteering with Mac, her bearded collie and close companion, for over 13 years. For most of that time, Mac was an in-demand volunteer certified therapy dog for North Star Therapy Animals and Pet Partners.
Mac’s gentle and loving manner was perfect for this role. He had a gift for calming and comforting people who spent time with him. He also inspired other families to train therapy dogs to help their communities, Cater said.
“His personality was incredible,” Cater said. “He had a truly exceptional emotional IQ. He could walk into a room of people and he’d go right up to the person who needed him the most in the room. He had an innate ability to know those that needed him.”
Together with Cater, Mac helped people all over the Twin Cities at places like hospitals, senior communities, libraries, shelters, and rehabilitation facilities, including an Eden Prairie group home for people who have sustained brain injuries.
Cater added, “Mac was so popular at one senior home that they would put his schedule on the wall for residents. Residents would sit on the couch with him and cry with joy because they loved him so much.”
See Mac in action in this video about his volunteer work at Fairview Southdale Hospital.
Mac and Cater also volunteered many hours in Eden Prairie’s schools. Through Eden Prairie High School’s counseling office, Mac offered support to students during finals week.
Mac also helped with local summer education programs. “We taught a pet responsibility class one summer at Oak Point Elementary called ‘Paws, Claws, Feathers, and You’, and Mac was there every day,” Cater said.
At Eden Lake Elementary, reluctant students could sign up to read books out loud to Mac as part of a literary assistance program.
“Mac was a gentle, kind soul,” said Tim Beekmann, Eden Lake’s principal. “Many students were more comfortable reading to him than to some peers and teachers. Some kids really came out of their shell by having this wonderful spirit with unconditional love sitting in their lap reading.”
He added, “Sheryl was also really respectful that not everybody feels comfortable around dogs. She was always really thoughtful about where reading to Mac would take place, to honor where everybody is from and make sure it wasn’t in a public area.”
Mac also helped raise money for Eden Lake. “We read at school fundraisers at Barnes & Noble. At Eden Lake Carnival’s silent auction, people could bid to have Mac read with their children,” Cater said.
Reading to Mac was one of the school’s most popular silent auction and raffle items, and since multiple winners were allowed, many families got to read with Mac.
“So many kids who have gone through Eden Lake have heard about Mac,” Beekmann said. “So when kids could put in a ticket for a drawing, reading to him was very popular item. It just spoke to the importance of feeling comfortable with this loving dog in your lap.”
Mac and Cater were regular visitors to the Eden Lake playground, where they frequently went for walks. Mac often made friends with children and families playing there on the weekend.
Cater said Mac’s sweet disposition won over many people who had previously feared or felt anxious around dogs. “He knew when people were afraid, and would just lay there and let kids crawl all over him,” she said.
Mac also fulfilled his civic responsibilities as an Eden Prairie resident, Cater said. He had a special off-leash permit from the city of Eden Prairie to chase Canada geese off the Eden Lake playground, to prevent goose droppings from ruining the fields and students from tracking droppings into the school.
“He loved chasing geese, but he never touched one,” Cater said.
Over the past year, however, Mac was slowing down. This winter, he started to decline and began showing signs of extreme pain, Cater said.
On Jan. 6, while Cater sat comforting Mac, “The rainbow bridge called him,” she said. Mac was 13-1/2 years old. Fittingly, the last photograph taken of Mac has a rainbow shining on him.
Tributes to Mac
Mac is no longer at Cater’s front window to greet her when she comes home, but she has kept his blanket and his favorite plush toy pig.
Cater said she is grateful for the time she and Mac had together, and the many ways he helped her and others.
“He had a wonderful life,” Cater said. “He made a really big imprint on a lot of people’s lives. He did as much for other people as he did for me. He brought me into other people’s lives that I probably would not have met.”
Cater used to give out baseball cards with Mac’s picture and Facebook page details to people they met while volunteering. Many people kept the cards and stayed in touch over the years.
After receiving the news that Mac passed, people have reached out to let Cater know how much meeting Mac meant to them.
In one tribute on Mac’s Facebook page, Kathy Touchstone wrote, “Mac was such a bright spot in my time at Fairview Southdale Hospital.”
In another tribute, Mark Gambucci wrote, “He was such a blessing to us when my wife was being treated for cancer — he will always have a special place in our hearts.”
Aubrey Stocker wrote, “I met him at the Minneapolis airport when I was grieving a terrible loss. He was my pal, and my buddy, for a good 30 minutes. He brightened my day, and truly brought joy and light into my life during that very dark time. What an amazing pup. What a beautiful friend to all.”
Learn more about Mac’s life of service on Cater’s Facebook page, Mac and Me. People who knew Mac and would like to share their stories can do so there.
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