On a recent sunny Saturday,
Heritage Woods of Batavia, an assisted living facility for seniors, had some unusual visitors – Pearl, a 1-year-old Bernadoodle and Willow, a 4-year-old Shepherd-mix. The dogs are part of Anderson Humane’s Healing Paws pet therapy program and were visiting Heritage Woods to bring the residents some joy in honor of a remarkable woman, Renee Vilmin.
“She had a particular love for animals and spent most of her years fostering and caring for them,” said Renee’s son Joe Krachala. In fact, when they were going through her belongings after she passed, they found a newspaper clipping from a 1974 St. Charles Chronicle about Renee’s rescue work.
Unfortunately, in her later years Renee wasn’t healthy enough to have pets. “It pained her not to be able to be around animals,” Joe said, adding that he did his best to facilitate animal visits as much as possible. While Renee was a resident at Heritage Woods, she also enjoyed occasional visits from therapy animals, which brought her joy, and thus brought her son joy as well.
So, when Renee passed in July of this year, Joe knew exactly how to honor his beloved mom. He started a GoFundMe to raise the support to cover the cost of monthly Healing Paws visits to Heritage Woods for an entire year. In lieu of flowers, friends and loved ones donated to this fundraiser to honor Renee’s love of animals and heart for helping others.
Pearl and Willow were the first Healing Paws animals to go on these monthly visits. The residents sitting outside enjoying the beautiful fall day greeted them on their way into the building, petting the dogs, asking about their breeds, and fondly remembering their own past pets.
“What a tremendous gift to have these visits for an entire year,” said Kelly Nash, Resident Services Manager at Heritage Woods of Batavia. She appreciates the comfort and love these animals bring to her community. “It’s the most amazing thing Joe is doing. What better way to honor his mom. We’re blessed to be part of this.”
Joe was present for this initial visit along with Renee’s sister Rita, Joe’s aunt. Rita recalled her sister loving animals from a young age and always going out of her way to help people. She and Joe enjoyed watching elderly faces light up at the sight of Pearl and Willow.
Lisa, Willow’s person, enjoyed the visit as well. “I love getting to share Willow with others,” she said. After dealing with her own health issues recently, Lisa said getting back out and sharing joy was healing for her as well.
“It’s nice to help provide the presence of animals for people without access,” Joe said, adding that many animal lovers don’t get to spend time with animals due to health reasons.
While he wishes he’d shared his plans to honor his mother with her before she passed, knowing it would make her happy, he felt reassured that she knew he would honor her in a way she would want, by making others smile. And, no doubt, he knows she is present and proud that he’s carrying on her legacy of loving animals and helping others.