The family pet is often one of the fondest memories of a happy childhood. It may be a cat that curled up with us on the sofa, or the dog who rushed to the door to greet us when we arrived home from school. At Mercy Home for Boys & Girls, our facility dog Pongo helps provide kids with the sense of warmth and comfort they are used to having in their own homes.

When kids enter our care, there can be an adjustment period. It’s never easy adapting to new surroundings, and things that create a sense of normalcy can go a long way. For one of our youth residents, Jordan, the presence of Pongo has helped him feel right at home here.

“He makes me feel welcome,” Jordan said of Pongo. At home, Jordan is used to playing with his own dog, Thor. “I know that as soon I see Pongo he’s going to sniff my pants, because I’m pretty sure he smells Thor on them.”

“He makes me feel welcome”

Once a week, Jordan meets with Tom Gilardi, Vice President of Youth Programs at Mercy Home. Pongo, whom Jordan refers to as his “Mercy-Thor”, tags along as well. The three of them usually spend their time in Mercy Home’s indoor soccer building or strolling the West Loop neighborhood. In tossing around a ball, Jordan and Pongo have developed a bond with one another.

“Me and Pongo have a good relationship,” Jordan explained. “Because every time I throw the ball he always comes to me and gives it to me.”

Though Pongo provides great companionship and a little bit of exercise for our kids, his role is so much more than that.

“It starts out with Pongo and throwing the ball to him or rolling around with him,” said Gilardi. “But what he really ends up doing is he facilitates our relationship, so we can begin to talk about things.”

In addition to Jordan, Gilardi has witnessed Pongo raising the energy levels of other kids that he meets with. The value of Pongo’s presence at Mercy Home is immeasurable; he allows Gilardi to better do his job and our kids to open up about what’s going on in their lives.

Every week, Jordan looks forward to his time with Gilardi and Pongo. His trips to the park with Pongo remind him of trips to the park with his own dog. In addition to providing a sense of comfort, Jordan even feels that Pongo is helping him improve his behavior.

“I see Tom every Monday, so I expect like, oh I’m going to see Pongo today, like my day is not going to be bad, and I can start my week off strong,” said Jordan.

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