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Article updated: 5/4/2012 1:31 PM

Moving Picture: Dogs ease stress for hospital patients

Katlyn Phillips, 5, of Yorkville visits with Cynthia Brooks and her therapy dog Greta Grace while staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Edward Hospital.

Katlyn Phillips, 5, of Yorkville visits with Cynthia Brooks and her therapy dog Greta Grace while staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Edward Hospital.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Derron Williams, 12, of Joliet gets a visit from Cynthia Brooks and her therapy dog Greta Grace while at Edward Hospital.

Derron Williams, 12, of Joliet gets a visit from Cynthia Brooks and her therapy dog Greta Grace while at Edward Hospital.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Patient Larry Monno of Palatine gets a kiss from therapy dog Greta Grace at Edward Hospital.

Patient Larry Monno of Palatine gets a kiss from therapy dog Greta Grace at Edward Hospital.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Derron Williams, 12 of Joliet gets a visit from Cynthia Brooks and her therapy dog Greta Grace while at Edward Hospital.

Derron Williams, 12 of Joliet gets a visit from Cynthia Brooks and her therapy dog Greta Grace while at Edward Hospital.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

Cynthia Brooks pulls her dog Greta Grace in a wheeled cart to visit patients at Edward Hospital as part of the hospitalís Animal Assisted Therapy program.

Cynthia Brooks pulls her dog Greta Grace in a wheeled cart to visit patients at Edward Hospital as part of the hospital's Animal Assisted Therapy program.

 

Mark Black | Staff Photographer

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Naperville's Cynthia Brooks was looking for a way to give back to her community in late 2001.

She found that opportunity with the newly formed Animal Assisted Therapy program at Edward Hospital.

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Brooks and her Yorkshire terrier Libby were accepted into the program, and after some training were ready to begin helping patients in the summer of 2002.

The idea of the program is to bring dogs into appropriate parts of the hospital to interact with patients with an eye toward easing their stress.

"You see some of the tension go away from their face and you feel that when you leave, maybe you made a difference for five minutes, or for the day, or sometimes for the whole hospital stay," Brooks says.

Over the past 10 years, Brooks has added two more animals to her own group of therapy dogs. She began working with Greta Grace in 2008 and, most recently, Phoebe Mae, in 2012.

The new dogs help fill the void left by the passing of her beloved Libby in 2009.

Brooks says she and her dogs have visited roughly 1,000 patients at Edward.

She says she finds her volunteer work very rewarding, and occasionally very emotional.

She remembers a patient some years ago who was crying tears of pain when she entered the room. Those tears quickly turned to tears of joy when Libby arrived.

Brooks says she formed a special bond with that woman and went back to visit her several times, not only as a therapist but as a friend.

The Edward Hospital Animal Assisted Therapy program currently features more than 90 dogs. Ten of the handlers have been in the program for 10 years.

The dogs and their handlers also are involved in other community efforts, such as teaching kids how to properly approach a strange dog and marching with Edward Hospital in Naperville parades.

For details on joining or making a donation to the Edward Hospital Animal Assisted Therapy program, visit Edward.org.

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