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Everyday Heroes 2014

Canine comfort

St. Charles woman brightens patients’ days through therapy dog work

Cathy Summers is seen with her dog, Jackie, who works as a therapy dog for hospice patients.
Cathy Summers is seen with her dog, Jackie, who works as a therapy dog for hospice patients.

Cathy Summers said her dog, Jackie, can’t wait to go to The Holmstad retirement community in Batavia every week.

“She almost runs me over to jump out of the car,” Summers said of Jackie. “Her tail will just start wagging crazy because she knows there’s people to pet her … I think she’s quite fond of the job she’s got now.”

Jackie, a 7-year old black German shepherd-beagle-lhasa apso mix, has been visiting Holmstad residents through CovenantCare Hospice since July 2013. They are a big hit with the residents, caregivers and their families alike.

Everyone loves to pet Jackie, Summers said. She knew Jackie would be a good fit for a therapy dog because she is gentle and works well with people. Summers adopted Jackie in 2008 from a rescue organization when the dog was 6 months old.

Summers, who works as a software tester, said she always had a calling to volunteer at a nursing home but didn’t know where to start. She ultimately ended up at The Holmstad to take a test for therapy dog certification.

A former CovenantCare staff member spotted Summers and Jackie at The Holmstad and told them about the opportunity to work with hospice patients there, said Elise Wall, the CovenantCare volunteer manager who nominated Summers as an Everyday Hero.

Wall said she is grateful that Summers and Jackie are a part of their organization.

“Cathy’s warmth and sensitivity to other’s needs make her an ideal hospice volunteer,” Wall said. “Jackie has delighted patients and their families, as well as staff, with her wagging tail, beautiful eyes and winning smile.”

Summers said she was nervous at first to complete the visits, but said that Jackie is the perfect icebreaker. The residents want to know how old Jackie is, what she likes to eat and why she has one blue eye and one brown eye.

Jackie also turns heads in some of her colorful Halloween costumes, which include a hot dog, astronaut and bumblebee, Summers said. For birthdays, Jackie wears a festive, multi-colored collar.

Jackie accepts clothing on her body but will shake off anything on her head if it’s not placed just right, she said.

Summers is usually stopped in the hallway on the way to her resident visits by other patients and staff members who want to see Jackie.

The Holmstad residents will pet Jackie, have Summers help them pet Jackie or will sometimes simply look at Jackie. Summers said that the physical conditions vary with the patients, who have terminal illnesses.

Working in hospice can be difficult – when a patient dies it can be like losing a friend, Summers said. She takes comfort in putting smiles on the patients’ faces and giving them and their family members some stress relief for the short time that she is there.

Summers said the therapy dog work has made her grow and learn more about herself.

“I focus on the joy Jackie and I can bring to people and not on the loss,” Summers said.

The Summers lowdown

Who she is: Cathy Summers

Town of residence: St. Charles

Age: 47

Family: Single

Hobbies: Reading (she’s in a couple of book clubs), CrossFit and she also plays the violin.

Fun fact: She’s gone skydiving twice, once in the Chicago area and once near Phoenix when she lived in Arizona.

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