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Canine compassion: Ingalls center’s pet therapy program gets award

Shirley Strasser (left) 85 Chicago Heights says goodbye therapy dog Jake as Ingalls recreatitherapist Anne Spratt looks on. It was

Shirley Strasser (left), 85, of Chicago Heights, says goodbye to therapy dog Jake as Ingalls recreation therapist Anne Spratt looks on. It was Strasser's last day of a one-week stay at the center, where she underwent therapy for breathing and back issues. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 18, 2014 6:03AM



A quadruple bypass procedure two years ago and recent surgery to have his toes amputated are two reasons Richard Bogacki travels every weekday from Oak Lawn to Harvey for rehabilitation.

But one reason he actually enjoys going is a golden retriever.

“Jake makes every day happy,” said Bogacki, a diabetic. “He makes everybody smile.”

Indeed, the Ingalls Center for Rehabilitative Medicine is going to the dogs — in the best possible way.

The center’s recreation therapist, Anne Spratt, and Jake, her 6-year-old golden retriever, recently brought home the Illinois Recreation Therapy Association 2013 Outstanding Program Award for the center’s pet therapy program.

“It is a great program,” Spratt said. “We do a lot of work with Jake here.”

According to the Mayo Clinic website, animal-assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a range of health problems, from children having dental procedures to people undergoing cancer treatment to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

And it’s not only the ill person who reaps the benefits, according to the website. Family members and friends who sit in on animal visits say they feel better, too.

Jake is a family pet to Homewood’s Dan and Anne Spratt, their son Dylan, 21, and daughter Kristin, 17. But he accompanies Anne Spratt to the Ingalls center from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Tuesday and Thursday for activities with center staff members including Spratt, nurse and case manager Suzanne Peart, physical therapist Joanne Cinquepalmi and recreation therapy assistant Bernice Perkins.

While Jake takes the weekend off, Homewood resident Jennifer Dorsett’s golden retrievers, Kahlua and Tequila, visit patients on Saturdays.

During individual visits to a patient’s room, Jake is happy to have a patient pet him and speak to him as he puts his head in a lap or a paw up for a high-five or a handshake.

The canine compassion works. Spratt said research has shown that pet therapy relieves stress, lowers blood pressure, and is a factor in reducing pain levels.

“Pets in general are known to provide stress management to patients, and often patients in hospitals (and) patients in rehab need relaxation techniques for pain,” Spratt said. “We’re trying to stay very pain-focused here to make our patients comfortable.”

Jake is a natural at the type of therapy he provides, Spratt said. He is not a trained therapy dog, but don’t tell that to Jake.

“As soon as he walked in the building, he put his head in someone’s lap who was sitting in a wheelchair, and I knew right then and there that he would be a benefit toward any patient’s recovery,” she said. “Golden retrievers are known to be good therapy dogs.”

Chicago Heights resident Shirley Strasser, 85, agreed.

“I look forward to (seeing Jake),” Strasser said.

She said she can’t take care of an animal at home because of her medical condition, so having Jake at rehab has been enjoyable for her.

“I love animals,” Strasser said.

Spratt said Jake often offers a diversion for patients undergoing painful therapy.

“When their families come, patients aren’t complaining about aches and pains and what the therapist did that day,” Spratt said. “They’re talking about the dog visiting.”

Jake also assists with group therapy, which often involves allowing patients to throw a ball to Jake, walk him and groom him, Cinquepalmi said. Simply putting Jake on a chair where a stroke patient can brush his coat not only is good physical therapy but is a calming activity for a patient.

”We don’t force him on anybody who doesn’t want to participate,” Cinquepalmi said.

But many patients find Jake to be exactly the right medicine.

On Mondays, Spratt, a 12-year employee at Ingalls, decides which patients “would enjoy animal-assisted therapy” and benefit most from a visit from Jake that week.

“You can see a patient with a severe stroke and they hardly give a response, and I’ll bring Jake right in front of them and they look and they try to reach (him),” Spratt said. “Those are patients I really try to go back to.”

Spratt said the Illinois Recreation Therapy Association award is an important acknowledgement of the good that animal therapy can do.

But the best reward, she said, is “to see a big smile on a patient’s face.”

“They don’t even know their therapist’s name,” Spratt said, “but they know Jake’s name.”



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