NORTH AURORA – John Grosse volunteers at The Holmstad in Batavia, but if you ask him, he’s not the one who does all the work.
He leaves much of the socializing up to Pushkin, his 6-year-old standard poodle, who tags along for pet therapy sessions at the retirement community each week.
“We do social comfort visits,” he said. “Hopefully, when we’re there, we bring a little cheer to people. Some people had dogs earlier in their lives. Some people just enjoy any visitor. They kind of count on us being there.”
Grosse of North Aurora said he started volunteer work at The Holmstad about four years ago and within the last year started volunteering at The Holmstad through Covenant Care Home Health & Hospice based in St. Charles.
Pushkin started his career as a therapy dog after going through obedience classes at the Fox Valley Dog Training Club.
Grosse said they later became certified as a team, and Pushkin now wears a tag on his collar that says, “I am a therapy dog.”
Grosse said his late father helped inspire him to start volunteering for hospice and The Holmstad with his dog.
He said his father died 20 years ago and before his death was assisted by hospice volunteers, and seeing how they supported families inspired him to get involved with the organization.
“It’s more meaningful than any job I’ve ever had,” he said. “I do think we do pretty good work.”
Elise Wall, hospice volunteer manager for Covenant Care Home Health & Hospice, nominated Grosse for the Everyday Heroes award. She said Grosse and his dog visit hospice patients a few times a week and helps “bring a little joy, compassion and a little light to their day.”
“He’s just so selfless, and he’s very humble,” she said. “He’s just very happy to be helping in any way he can. He’s just a real genuine kind of person.”
Grosse said some people don’t care for dogs, and he respects that. Others, however, will sometimes flag him down if they see him at The Holmstad and want to spend a little time with Pushkin.
He said visits usually last an hour and a half total.
“Most of the staff know his name. He gets a biscuit at the front desk,” he said. “We pretty much walk down a hall, and the doors are always open.”
Gross said he recognized that Pushkin could be a good therapy dog because those dogs have to be especially friendly and well-behaved. He said he can tell when Pushkin gets excited because he tends to sneeze a lot.
Grosse said many other people whose dogs have gone through training courses at the Fox Valley Dog Training Club also volunteer with their pets in the area.
“I think there’s a lot of good people doing good work,” he said.
The Grosse lowdown
Name: John Grosse
Town of residence: North Aurora
Family: Wife, Irina Grosse
Hobbies: Hanging with his standard poodle, Pushkin, at the dog park
Fun fact: He says, “I’ve been to Europe 15 times and to Munich [Bavaria, Germany] for Oktoberfest four times.”