When Tess Eagle Swan adopted a rescue puppy from Transylvania in 2014, she hoped they’d develop a special bond. The United Kingdom resident named the pup Kratu (a Sanskrit word for “strength” pronounced “KRAY-too”) and started training him with rewards like treats and — since he’s a bit of a clown — laughter.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that whenever Kratu competed in agility at Crufts, the world’s largest dog show, instead of obediently running the course, he played for laughs.
On his first outing in 2017, he thought it best to explore the scents of the arena and walk around the weave poles instead of racing through them — to the delight of onlookers, who roared with laughter.
“Kratu clearly made an informed decision, and that was to have fun,” Swan, 58, told TODAY. “He loves people and to have fun. And the pull of the audience in the moment and in the arena was far greater than doing what he was told.”
Crufts released a video of “Krazy Kratu” that went viral — as did his subsequent appearances. They seemed to get funnier with each passing year, from Kratu turning around halfway through agility tunnels to stealing poles he was supposed to jump over.
But there’s much more to Kratu, now 8, than his hilarious antics in the agility ring, as chronicled in the new book “Incredible Kratu: The happy-go-lucky rescue dog who changed his owner’s life.”
Swan writes in her book about an extremely challenging childhood and young adulthood. She survived abuse, kidnapping and rape, and used drugs, including heroin. She’s had to contend with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, bulimia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, self-hatred and ultimately, undiagnosed autism.
After being diagnosed with hepatitis C in 2011, with help from doctors and a spiritual quest that led her to Peru, she started turning her life around. When she adopted Kratu, she spent so much time giving him the exercise, positive training and care he needed that it didn’t leave much time for introspection and anxiety.
She also wasn’t used to smiling much before Kratu entered her life.
“I’ve always liked rebels, rascals,” she said with a laugh. “I’ve been one myself.”
When trainer Wendy Kruger from Woodgreen Pets Charity invited Kratu to participate as part of a rescue dog agility team at Crufts, Swan felt motivated to seek help for her mental health because she wanted to be able to attend — and enjoy it.
As a result, she was finally diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
Sure enough, when the time came, her faithful companion helped her navigate through the Crufts crowds — and the sensory overload they bring — before and after his agility run.
“His goal is love and happiness, and I walk behind him. He leads the way,” she said. “He’s just this force of nature.”
She credits Kratu — aka Baron Kratu von Bearbum — with helping her heal, and is passionate about spreading awareness of mental health for both people and pets. She wants others to consider the mental health needs of their dogs — such as force-free training — and to make the choice to rescue themselves.
“Your dog doesn’t come and kick you out of bed and go, ‘Get up and go wash yourself.’ You decide to throw back the covers, go into the bathroom, brush your teeth. You make that decision,” she said. “If you are going to be empowered, healthy and whole, you have to say, ‘I do this for me, because I’m worth it and I want to do it.’ And to be present for your dog.”
Kratu is helping change other lives, too. One woman wrote to Swan that while she coped with chemotherapy treatments for cancer, she repeatedly watched Kratu’s Crufts routines to help get her through it. Afterward, she adopted a rescue dog of her own.
“So many people around the world have got mental health problems. They’ve got sadness,” Swan said. “And they go to Kratu’s page and they talk to him.”
Kratu and Swan have also visited university students in Romania to help change perceptions of rescue dogs as pets, attend a variety of charitable events to lend their support and appeared in Autism’s Got Talent.
Kratu also volunteers as an ambassador for the United Kingdom’s All-party Parliamentary Dog Advisory Welfare Group, which seeks to improve the health and welfare of dogs and their people.
Wherever they go, Swan feels pride seeing Kratu show what rescue dogs can be with early socialization, positive training and respect. She loves the way he opens hearts just by being himself.
“I’ve always found it hard to be accepted. And to see this roughneck, Romanian, cheeky, charming clown just welcomed into this world, and I’m with him … I really struggle with self-worth and self-esteem, and I have to take a step back and think, ‘That’s my dog. We’ve done this together,’” she said.