ELMHURST – A feeling of excitement buzzed through Lexington Square of Lombard's lobby on a sunny afternoon. Everyone, staff, residents and visitors, wanted a chance to meet Rico Suave and hopefully steal a quick pat.
"He will work a crowd," said Elmhurst resident David Ore, who rescued the mutt less than two years ago.
At just 22 pounds, Rico's golden fur demanded everyone's attention as he trotted toward the elevator, politely snuggling up to one fan after another. Immediately, smiles stretched across the faces sprinkled around the lobby. Even Rico tilted his head back and flashed a grin while hand after hand patted his head.
It's the calm, friendly behavior Ore saw the day he found Rico in the rubble of a construction site in Puerto Rico. At the time, he was a stray, but he snuggled right up to Ore and fell asleep while his future owner pet him.
"We were told several times by people who own therapy dogs that he had the perfect temperament, and when we took a look at that we thought he could do better," said Ore. "He can go ahead and help other people, and he enjoys it."
When Rico finally cleared the lobby, rode the elevator with complete composure and entered a room full of a couple dozen residents, their response made it clear Rico wasn't the only one who enjoyed the visit.
"They become so cheerful, so at ease," said Ana Marie Buss, a life enrichment assistant at the senior living residence. "It's amazing."
Lexington Square has a number of pets that come to visit the residents, and they make such a positive impression that staff members always make an effort to remind the residents who particularly enjoy animals when their furry friends are coming.
"Even those who are having a rough day, that's all they do is talk about the pets, even at dinner," said Carlos Bernal, director of life enrichment at the facility.
Karen Click of Glen Ellyn has been raising therapy dogs for more than 15 years. She and her Shetland Sheepdog, Nutmeg, joined Rico and Ore on their June 13 visit as part of the Lyons Township Dog Training Club's visiting pets group called Ben's Friends.
Even after Rico made the long trip from his island home and earned his American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen certificate in May 2012, his obstacles weren't over. Ore attempted to enroll in an animal assisted therapy program at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital, but was continually told the program was not taking new applicants. So, he pursued other options.
Pet Partners is a national organization devoted to both the human health and veterinary industries. After Ore passed an online course in animal health and behavior, Rico Suave also needed to pass a 22-part skills and aptitude test, before the duo was finally registered as therapy team.
"They actually threw a clipboard behind him to see if he startles to anything," said Ore describing Rico's test.
Their visit to Lexington was the handler and hound's second therapy trip, but both appeared to be patient professionals. Ore and his wife have another dog, Stout, who suffers from a seizure disorder, so both he and Rico have plenty of practice remaining calm in unusual situations.
"He's not fazed by anything at all," said Ore, who recounted Rico's now routine and relaxed reaction to Stout's seizures.
Like any proud parent, Ore insists he just wants Rico to do what makes him happy, but also knows visiting Lexington is just one of his options. The team plan to try other outings like "read to the dog" programs that allow children to read aloud to a companion without the fear of being laughed at or corrected if they make a mistake. Ben's Friends therapy teams also visit special needs students at Stone Elementary School in Addison.
"[We'll] see what he likes the best," said Ore. "We don't want him to get bored. We want to keep him interested in things."