Pet therapy dogs bring comfort, laughter to Ronald McDonald House
As Duke walks through the doors of the Ronald McDonald House, it’s hard to tell who is more excited: him or the kids. His tail starts to wag and his soft, brown eyes light up as he sees two old friends, Michelle and Emily, rush to greet him. As his pet therapy partner, Katie Krauss says, “He just loves his kiddos at the Ronald McDonald House.”
Michelle and her family stayed at the Ronald McDonald House for over nine months when she was diagnosed with cancer in February 2015. She’s back in town for an appointment and she and her sister delight as they give Duke treats and play their favorite games. Katie says that she sees a transformation when families encounter Duke at the House. “I see a change in energy. I see joy. I see a momentary ability to let go of whatever troubles someone is having.”
Some days are harder than others. Last March Katie came to the door to hear unbearably sad news from a group of kids at the House: their friend Franklin had lost his battle to cancer. While their parents gathered in the kitchen to be with Franklin’s parents, Katie and Duke stayed with the kids, going for walks and being together. “As the kids were walking through the house they were talking and processing their feelings in a really safe way. They knew that Duke wouldn’t interrupt them. He just provided a quiet presence,” says Katie.
All therapy dogs demonstrate empathy for kids that are suffering, but for Duke, he understands their battle more personally. Last year he was diagnosed with cancer. Katie says that they are optimistic, and that this struggle has had a silver lining. “It’s been great for the kids. A lot of them are aware that he’s going through a similar struggle, and it creates a deeper connection.”
As Michelle and Emily continue to play, he makes another new friend. Nine-month-old Memphis is staying at the Ronald McDonald House while his little brother, who was born at 28 weeks, grows stronger in the NICU. Memphis smiles from ear to ear. Soon, the whole family, grandparents included, are huddled around Duke. Katie says that they often see this reaction. “Most people really miss their animals… seeing Duke brings back a lot of warmth and happiness.”
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Spokane started its pet therapy program back in 2004, and each year has approximately 80 visits from pet therapy dogs. As Kathie Vlahovich, House Operations Director says, “Pet therapy dogs bring their unconditional love, comfort and companionship to the families we serve. Even if it’s just for a few hours, these pets bring a part of home.”