Costumed therapy dog visits South Fayette nursing home

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The black and tan dog was a daunting sight — all 110 pounds of her in a room full of senior citizens, many of them frail, many in wheel chairs.

The dog, “Anastasia,” is a Rottweiler and that breed does have an imposing look. But, this Rottie was wearing a pink tutu, a pink scarf and a feminine little hat perched atop her head. Her nails were painted with pink and yellow polish.

"Look at what your mama did to to you,“ joked one lady.

"She looks like a ballerina,” said one woman, with a big smile.

"I like a poodle,” said another woman, as she jockeyed her wheelchair to a position where she could get a closer view. 

The gaily-costumed Anastasia, 8, was a big hit during a June 3 visit to Broadmore Senior Living in South Fayette. Nearly 50 people crowded into the facility’s living room to meet the dog.

Anastasia works  with Three Rivers Hospice and Family Home Health Services, Inc., which has had a Pet Therapy Program for 13 years. She goes to work in a North Versailles office every day with Laura Sokolovic, and most days they’re on the road visiting patients in hospitals, nursing homes and their own homes. They also go to schools, teaching children how to be safe around dogs.

Anastasia started her training when she was 12 weeks old and she’s been working since she was one-year-old and passed tough tests to become a certified therapy dog.She spends nights and weekends in Ms. Sokolovic’s Whitehall home, where she lives with Sebastian, 5, a dogue de Bordeaux, who is also a therapy dog, and Shetland sheepdog-golden retriever mix Kodiak, 8, a full-time family pet.

"Anastasia’s job is to meet people and behave herself,“ Ms. Sokolovic said. ”She is here to make you smile. That is her number one job.“

"Anastasia gives kisses,” Ms. Sokolovic said. “Who wants a kiss?”

Only about 10 hands went up. But by the end on the hour-long visit, almost every person asked for a kiss, and Anastasia complied.

"That’s the first kiss I’ve had in a long time,“ said a resident named Yolanda.

Anastasia showed off her bag of tricks, including giving “high fives” to patients. Her biggest hit came when she helped  “birthday girls” Helen, Jenny and Wendy celebrate June birthdays. While all the residents sang “Happy Birthday to You,” Anastasia raised her nose toward the ceiling and howled in tune to the song. That performance was so popular, everyone sang a second round, and Anastasia howled again.

Broadmore is a very dog-friendly facility.

Riley, a mixed-breed rescue dog, lives at the facility full time, said resident Becky Carlisle. A St. Bernard therapy dog named Shamrock makes regular visits, and many visitors bring their pet dogs when they visit relatives and friends.

“When the dogs come, people here just light up,” Ms. Carlisle said. “And the dogs are so happy to see family members.”

Ms. Carlisle, who grew up on a South Fayette farm not far from her current residence, enjoys seeing the dogs. Like many residents she had her picture taken with Anastasia and received a blue and white paw print sticker.

“That’s Anastasia’s real paw print,” said Ms. Sokolovic.“If you’re ever feeling blue, look at the sticker and I want you to smile.”

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-722-0087.

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