Therapy dog ​​Zavya and her handler Carol Zablocki comforted nursing home patients

Every time Zavya arrived at a nursing home to offer therapy, the faces of her charges lit up. She dried tears, elicited smiles and offered special comfort to any patient she could tell was having a particularly bad day.

His techniques were tactile and direct. It never took long for patients to open up about their lives before being confined to the sterile rooms of the care facility. Particularly receptive locals would turn to Zavya’s partner, Carol, and ask, “Can I give her a treat?”

Therapy dog ​​Zavya and her human ‘driver’ Carol Zablocki have spent nine years visiting nursing homes from Pine Rock Manor in Warner to the Birches in Concord, sometimes volunteering up to three times a week.

Although Zavya retired in April to devote more time to his hobbies – digging, barking and playing in the mud – the affectionate big dog is still a natural for providing comfort to humans.

Zavya is a Great Pyrenees, a gentle breed that historically protected flocks of sheep or goats in the European mountains from wolves and bears. She is the third Great Pyrenees that Carol Zablocki and her husband Jim have bred and undoubtedly the sweetest. They discovered the breed when they saw one of the fluffy white dogs at a rest stop in Ohio.

Jim is Polish and Zavya’s name is derived from the Polish word for snowstorm. She’s small for the breed, weighing 90 pounds, but the perfect size for someone in a wheelchair to dish out pats to the head without bending over. Carol calls it a “pocket pyre”.

Zavya loves people and being a pet, and will poke people’s hands until they ruffle her thick white fur. The Zablockis had a former Great Pyrenees trained as a therapy dog, but he got bored with the job. “You can’t force a dog to be a therapy dog,” Carol said.

Zavya came to the Warner house of the Zablockis when she was six months old. “When we got her, she had no name, had never walked on grass. She couldn’t climb stairs, walked off a leash, hated getting into cars — and was unclean,” Zablocki said. “It took him about a year to trust us.”

To become a therapy dog, Zavya first had to go through a traditional obedience school. After passing the American Kennel Club’s canine good citizenship test, the Zablockis sent Zavya to Chichester dog trainer Mary Finlayson for weeks of kennel training and practice visits before taking the test. therapy dog. The test assessed whether Zavya could leave pills on a table and remain unfazed by oxygen tanks, wheelchairs and walkers.

Carol said. “It’s something outside of the establishment that reminds them of what they were doing and who they were.”

Zavya and Carol provided their services as members of Therapy Dogs International, a volunteer group that provides free visits to handlers and therapy dogs.

“Not only is stroking a dog’s shiny coat enjoyable, it offers a way to facilitate physical and emotional progress,” states a pamphlet from Therapy Dogs International. “It has been clinically proven that by petting, touching and talking with animals, patients’ blood pressure is lowered, stress is relieved and depression is alleviated.”

Carol said that when she brought Zavya to nursing homes, she often heard the story of every pet a patient had ever owned. While many patients couldn’t remember Carol’s name, they did remember what to call Zavya.

Zayva and Carol took a break from care facilities in the first year of the pandemic, but when they returned after a 14-month absence in 2021, memory unit patients remembered the dog who spit out most of the treats and push his head against their hands. .

Zavya has a pin on her Therapy Dog International scarf for making 500 visits, but Carol estimates she’s made over 630 in her 9-year career. At 11, she is approaching old age for a Pyrenean and suffers from osteoarthritis.

“I think she kinda misses it,” Carol said, though Zavya has never been a fan of car rides.

Zavya still volunteers as a “spokesperson” for the SPCA Pope Memorial. She and Carol attend public events like market days to represent the animal rescue society when animals eligible for adoption cannot be there.

The Zablockis advise any owners considering having their dog certified as a therapy dog ​​to consult with their trainer about a dog’s suitability. Therapy dogs don’t have to be a specific breed, but they should be friendly and calm. “The dog has to be well-behaved, that’s really essential,” Jim said.

A therapy dog ​​is different from an assistance dog, which helps someone with special physical or emotional needs. “Service dogs are one-to-one because they’re there to help the person they’re with, whereas therapy dogs are one-to-many,” Carol said.

” Is not it ? she says to Zavya, a dog that has touched many people’s hearts. “Yeah!”

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