Woman deploys four-legged therapists for healing


Last updated 10/16/2019 at 11:58pm | View PDF

Jim Slonoff


The young lady in a wheelchair, unable to speak, seemed indifferent as the volunteer handler approached her with the pet therapy dog. The handler left a card with information about the dog and turned to go visit with other patients at the rehab center.

"And the girl reached out and pet the dog," said Deborah Kraus, manager of Hinsdale Humane Society's pet therapy program. "She knew quite well we were there. It's just that she couldn't necessarily verbalize it."

Those are the moments that warm the Hinsdale resident's heart.

"You can just see the impact," Kraus said.

She has overseen the pet therapy program since 2010, having volunteered with the humane society since 1994.

"When I took over the program we had about 30 volunteers. We have over 50 now, and we visit over 28 different senior care facilities, work with eight local libraries and four special education school districts," she said. She also cited the partnership with Amita Health through which therapy teams visit hospitals in Hinsdale, La Grange and Bolingbrook as well as patients in Paulson Pediatric Rehab and at St. Thomas Hospice.

As a child, Kraus' family had boxers. To say they were well-loved is apparently an understatement.

"I was always convinced my parents liked them better than their kids," she quipped.

Urban living and a busy career in finance/technology didn't allow for pets. But when she and her husband moved to Hinsdale, she found the humane society offered an effective remedy for stress.

"I used to socialize cats," she said. "It was kind of a good way to relax after work so I didn't come storming in the front door of my house."

Finding herself in professional transition after the Great Recession, she was approached about running the humane society's fledgling pet therapy partnership with then-Hinsdale Hospital.

"(The then-director) said, 'It involves an awful lot of paperwork, and I know, based on your background, you're really good about managing a lot of paperwork and forms,' " Kraus related.

She admits she's become quite partial to cats, which are also employed in therapy visits. Last fall Kraus was smitten by a stray tabby that had been plucked from the streets of La Grange.

"I took her home on what was supposed to be a temporary basis. And I brought her in the door and my husband called her 'Sweetheart'," she said. "Liebchen means sweetheart in German."

Liebchen might be among the pets greeting visitors at the humane society's Oktoberfest Saturday at the Tuthill Family Pet Rescue & Resource Center in Hinsdale (see Page 20 for details).

"We'll have our Leonburger - his name is Klaus - and one of our staff members will bring her Rottweiler. And we'll have a Schnauzer, of course," Kraus said.

She is thankful for the volunteer handlers, who put in more than 1,200 hours in therapy visits a year.

"I have more requests than I can fill," she said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean

Email: [email protected]
Phone: 630-323-4422, ext 103


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