Service dog says farewell to south-Edmonton high school

Service dog says farewell to south-Edmonton high school

Students of J. Percy Page packed the school gym Monday morning to wish a happy retirement to the south-side high school's hairiest staff member.

Labrador retriever Eddy has brought smiles to thousands of students over his career, working alongside his owner and fellow honoured retiree, Charles Gachnang — or Mr. G., as they call him.

Five years ago, Gachnang opened Page's individual support program, primarily designed to provide comfort and companionship for medically fragile and non-verbal students.

Principal Darryl Sutherland said Gachnang's presence has changed the culture of the school, making it more inclusive as students jump to assist those under his care.

"He is such a caring man and cares for everybody," said Sutherland. "He's a relationship builder but he's very humble. And this was hard because he is not somebody who would openly say, 'I'd like to have this for me and be recognized.'"

Stephen Cook / CBC News

Gachnang didn't know about the celebration until he was called up to the stage.

"I'm surprised, I'm grateful for the outpouring of joy that they had for Eddy," he said. "And I guess it caught me a little bit by surprise how profound of an influence he had at the school."

He said working in the individual support program has been life-changing.

"I can't even begin to describe how much it makes me feel really good about what we've done over the past five years," he said.

While Gachnang and Eddy have worked at J Percy Page since 2014, the duo have been inside Edmonton public schools for a decade. Eddy was actually trained as an autism service dog and started his career at Rosslyn School.

While at Page, Eddy would often help students struggling with anxiety. Teachers would send students to visit Gachnang's classroom when they were having a particularly trying day.

Scott Neufield / CBC News

Grade 12 student Chaiden Muir said Eddy made his high school experience "absolutely better."

"He's always been there as emotional support," he said as he gave the 12-year-old dog a belly rub. Over the course of three years, the two formed a special bond culminating in Eddy walking beside Muir at his graduation.

Eddy will spend the first few weeks of his retirement recovering from a recent ligament injury. Gachnang said what comes after is unknown but he will miss his experiences at the school.

"It's a wonderful way to spend part of your day where you're hanging out with students and staff and they come and talk to you and pet Eddy, and they all sort of leave with a smile," he said.

"I can't ask for anything more than that."