A loving listener, a curious conversationalist, an authentic artist, a wonderful wrestler and an animal admirer is how family, friends and loved ones remember Patrick Roemer, an 18-year-old Lake Forest High School student who died by suicide in May 2020.
Patrick battled depression and anxiety for years, said his mother, Fronzie Roemer, a Glencoe native, adding that he was unresponsive to “traditional” healing methods such as therapy and medication.
But there was one thing that gave him relief from his illness: his rescue dog, Cici.
“He loved his dogs and cats and any animal that he was ever around and always found a lot of comfort from those animals,” Fronzie said. “And we knew there was something very real about that.”
One month after Roemer’s death, Fronzie and her husband, Steve Roemer, began their nonprofit organization, Paws for Patrick, to honor their son’s life by connecting young people (0-26) to emotional support animals.
“We wanted to do something to honor his memory that would mean something to him,” Fronzie said. “We wanted to help more young people that were struggling like Patrick, because it was horrible to watch and to not be able to do anything to help him.”
Furry friends are not only cute and soft, but they can also play a critical role in helping people care for their mental wellbeing. From helping veterans transition to civilian life to guiding the blind, service dogs enable healing in a number of ways.
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine’s website, “Simply petting a dog lowers the stress hormone cortisol, while the social interaction between people and their dogs actually increases levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin — the same hormone that bonds mothers to babies.”
Patrick’s special connection to animals was no coincidence, which is why Paws for Patrick offers two services to help people tend to their mental health: therapy dogs and emotional support dogs.
“There is a difference between therapy dogs, ESAs and psychiatric service dogs,” Steve Roemer said.
Paws for Patrick has received 100 emotional support animal requests in under one year.
Therapy dogs are insured, certified animals led by handlers typically used in a public setting. Paws for Patrick hosts a number of events where their 10 therapy dogs and their handlers are present to provide support to the public.
Emotional support dogs provide comfort to an individual experiencing mental illness and are legally allowed to live in a dwelling with a “no pets” policy with a prescription from a psychiatrist or doctor.
And psychiatric service dogs are specifically trained to help the owner with their specific needs and are permitted to accompany the handler in public. Paws for Patrick hopes to offer psychiatric service dogs as the organization grows.
Starting the process to get an ESA through Paws for Patrick is as simple as a few keystrokes.
Step 1: Visit www.pawsforpatrick.org.
Step 2: Hover over “Emotional Support Animals.”
Step 3: Click “ESA Request Form.”
Step 4: Complete and submit the ESA Request Form.
Once the form is submitted, the person seeking an ESA will be contacted by a Paws for Patrick wish granter who will guide the seeker through the process of finding an ESA to come home to at the end of the day.
Not all animals are a good fit to be an ESA, and ESAs are not always the right method of healing for people with mental illness. But regardless of a seeker’s personal circumstances, mental health situation or financial standing, Paws for Patrick will not turn anyone away, Fronzie told The Record.
Patrick’s siblings Ben and Magdalene, his parents Fronzie and Steve and his pets Indie, Ollie, Dasher and Little Kitty will mark Paws for Patrick’s one-year anniversary on Sunday, Sept. 26, at the Walk for Awareness and Family Fair at the Lake Forest Recreation Center.
The walk and fair go from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Paws for Patrick therapy dogs will be roaming around with their handlers. Food trucks will be ready with good eats, and F.L.A.M.E. and Taylor & Mane will play live music. There is no cost for admission, but donations can be made online.
For more information about Paws for Patrick, visit www.pawsforpatrick.org.
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Alayne Trinko is an editorial intern who assists the editor-in-chief in reporting hyperlocal news, developing engaging multimedia, and building community trust. Alayne was a staff writer and Focus section editor for The DePaulia, DePaul University’s student-run newspaper. Alayne will be a junior studying journalism this fall and hopes to study abroad to conduct social justice reporting on women’s reproductive health issues in Africa or India in summer 2022. Follow her on Twitter @AlayneTrinko.