The Ultimutt Therapy Dog

Getting to know MN’s one-and-only therapy dog


Standing at the door of his home, Finn, MN’s resident therapy dog since last March, waits to go to work, tail wagging and tongue dangling.

Finn is a four-year-old bulldog owned by one of the school psychologists, Kelley O’Toole. O’Toole takes Finn to work every Friday where he hands out the PBIS awards in classrooms, lounges in the psychology offices, and brightens kids’ days.

“A therapy dog’s main purpose is to provide stress relief and make people happy. That’s his number one goal,” O’Toole said. “By just being himself, sitting around calmly asking for pets, Finn achieves his goal”

A therapy dog’s traits are best described as a calm demeanor, patience, confidence, and a love of human contact. Finn fits the profile to a tee. With a relaxed personality and his favorite pastime laying down on the tile, he fulfills the mold.

 “He’s truly so calm in every situation, so I can bring him anywhere and he can just sit there and people come up to him and pet him,”  O’Toole said. “He doesn’t run, he doesn’t bark, he doesn’t jump up, he just sits quietly and lets people pet him and love him.”

Finn wasn’t bred as a therapy dog but still trained to be one. Over the course of about a year, therapy dogs go through multiple levels of training:: the basic puppy classes– obedience training, and learning how to sit and stay, and an advanced class if the dog needs more skills. Some dogs work one-on-one with trainers, while others focus on classes. 

“Finn and I worked one-on-one together. I’m a psychologist, so I have a pretty good handle on how to train dog behavior, so he and I just worked together,” O’Toole said.

After he completed classes, Finn and the other therapy dogs-to-be had to pass a control evaluation. After he passed, he went on 10 supervised visits– going out into the community to interact with others. These could be anywhere, ranging from nursing homes to local colleges, while a supervisor watches. 

After passing his control evaluation and becoming a certified therapy dog, Finn sees students every Friday when he comes to visit. They are allowed to pet him and visit with the bulldog in the psychology office.

“I usually come in during my lunch hour and I basically sit in there and hang out with him. He really just calms me down after all the stresses of the day,” student Rufio Morrison said.

Finn works and helps by simply existing around students in need. Students might take him on walks around the school, and he’s also trained to work the room– walking around a classroom and then lying down, giving everyone the opportunity to pet him.

“He has the ability to make anybody happy. So if a student comes and they’re feeling sad, or they’re feeling anxious, or they’re just not having a good day, a lot of times they spend some time with Finn, maybe take him for a walk, and they feel much better afterward,” O’Toole said.

Finn works the typical weekdays and gets the weekends to spend with his family.  

“He’s the best pet you could ever imagine. When he’s not working, he’s calm, he’s cool, he’s laid back, he snuggles with us, and he snores really loud. He’s a great pet, just not a good guard dog,” O’Toole said.

Even though the work vest is on, Finn carries these cuddly and compassionate traits over to his work.

“Every time I come into the room to see him, his ears perk up, and it’s like he’s saying ‘Oh, you’re here!’ He’s just my little buddy,” Morrison said.

Suiting up in his orange harness, Finn gets ready to work. Calm, cool, and pet-seeking, he’s ready to help the students of MN with any strife in their life. The four-year-old bulldog is certified and ready to help with a wag of his tail.