When Kathleen Jaeger first saw a photo of Austin, a puppy available for adoption at Anderson Humane, she was struck by his cute toothy smile. “I was so drawn to him,” Kathleen said, adding she felt the sense that she needed him. Her family had been through so much and could use a little bundle of joy in their midst.
When she saw a second photo of Austin, showing the heart-shaped marking on his left side, she knew the puppy was destined for her family.
The Significance of Hearts
Hearts hold special significance to Kathleen’s family – for a negative reason at first. When Kathleen was pregnant with her fourth child, she went into pre-term labor at 26 weeks. Though doctors were able to stop the labor, in the process they discovered that her baby had a severe heart defect.
“For a time, I hated the thought of hearts,” Kathleen said. Especially when a doctor suggested her other three children have their hearts checked and they discovered that their 8-year-old daughter, Lilli, had a completely different heart defect.
Thankfully, the baby, Joey, survived birth. Within six months of his diagnosis, both he and Lilli had open-heart surgery to basically save their lives. Though those surgeries were successful, both have ongoing health issues requiring medications and likely additional surgeries. But they are hanging in there.
Throughout this time, hearts took on new significance to Kathleen and her family. She and her husband, Gerred, were focused on the healing of Joey and Lilli’s hearts, and on providing consistent love for their other two daughters, Olivia and Tatum, during countless doctor appointments and hospital stays. Kathleen even got a heart tattoo. And now she was falling for a heart-marked puppy.
And Then They Were 12
“When people heard we were considering getting a puppy, they thought we were nuts,” Kathleen said with a laugh. Her family of six was still busy with doctor appointments, and they already had two large dogs, Mo and Moose, and three cats, Archie, Haven, and Ace. Their house and their calendar were full.
But Kathleen couldn’t get the puppy out of her mind. “I couldn’t sleep at night,” she said, adding she had a sense that they needed Austin. She and her daughter Lilli made their case to Gerred, who would make the final decision. “He’s a softie,” Kathleen said. “He totally got it.”
So, the Thursday before Christmas, the family braved a winter storm to go to Anderson Humane’s South Elgin shelter to meet Austin. Gerred was on a half-hour break from work, but even in that short time could see the joy on his four kids’ faces. They adopted Austin that day and renamed him Apollo: for the Greek god of medicine and healing.
“Apollo has been so good,” Kathleen said, adding that he’s had a positive impact on her family. Joey, now 7, has had two open-heart surgeries and will likely need more in the future. He has a feeding tube but medicines are keeping more serious issues at bay. He doesn’t go to school full-time, so he’s home with his mom and the dogs a lot. “He’s a very happy kid,” Kathleen said, summing up the most important part.
Lilli, now 14, is doing well cardiac-wise but developed a neurological disease that requires weekly infusions. “When Lilli’s not feeling well, she usually goes to her room to sleep,” Kathleen said. That has tapered off since Apollo joined the family. “She’s been more present since the puppy.”
Though Kathleen knew the bulk of the work of caring for Apollo would fall on her, she was happy to take that on. “As a mom, you want your kids to be happy,” she said. “Even if he would make them smile a bit more, it’d be worth it.”
She said Apollo has been a constant snuggle companion, and the other dogs bring their usual goofiness to the family. “It makes them happy,” Kathleen said of her dogs and kids. “I love seeing those smiles. Those endorphins are a huge amount of medicine.”