Dogs have their day at Pittsburgh City Council

There’s nothing like a big wrinkle-faced mastiff wearing a little red derby hat to bring smiles to the faces of the people who work at Pittsburgh’s City-County Building.

Sebastian, 8, was rolled into City Council chambers Tuesday, riding in a red and black mesh dog stroller. The cinnamon-colored dogue de Bordeaux was there with his co-worker Arianna, 3, a Rottweiler, to be honored with a resolution from the city’s elected officials.

They are therapy dogs for Three Rivers Hospice and Family Home Health Services Inc.

“I think they’re both excited to be here,” said Councilwoman Darlene M. Harris, as she petted both dogs. Ms. Harris sponsored the resolution.

Pittsburgh employees and visitors took photographs of the dogs and selfies of themselves with the dogs. Sebastian also wore a rainbow-hued bandanna. Arianna wore a multicolored tutu around her hips, a color-coordinated necklace and a rhinestone bow atop her head.

The company that uses Sebastian and Arianna was honored when Pittsburgh Council unanimously proclaimed that Tuesday, June 27 was Three Rivers Hospice and Family Home Health Services Day.

In addition to making five to six visits per week to hospitals, nursing homes, doctors offices and schools, Sebastian and Arianna appear at events to help raise money for a variety of nonprofits, including the American Cancer Society and the the White Oak Animal Safe Haven shelter.

There is never a fee for their visits.

The dogs go to work five days each week with Laura Sokolovic, director of public relations and pet therapy. At the end of each work day, they go home with her.

They are certified by Therapy Dogs International and have passed the American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen test.

Sebastian is able to walk, but he arrived at the City-County Building in his stroller because he had a rear leg amputated last year, Ms. Sokolovic said.

As a young dog, Sebastian was diagnosed with a crippling joint condition and needed to have both hips surgically replaced. His fans raised $22,000 for the procedures. Several years later one of the replacements had to be removed because of an infection that also damaged his leg.

Sebastian gets out of his stroller for meet and greets at his therapy dog visits. He gets around quite well on three legs and is his usual sweet and happy self, Ms. Sokolovic said.

Before she worked for Three Rivers, Ms. Sokolovic in 2001 trained a dog she named Athena to be a therapy dog. She called several facilities to volunteer the dog’s services.

“But when they heard she was a Rottweiler, they said ‘no.’ When I called Three Rivers, they met with us and Athena melted their hearts,” Ms. Sokolovic said. She and Athena made volunteer visits, and in 2006 Three Rivers gave Ms. Sokolovic a full-time job.

When Athena died in 2006, Anastasia, also a Rottweiler, joined the therapy dog team. Sebastian started working in 2009. When Anastasia died in 2015, she was laid out at a local funeral home, and more than 400 people came to the viewing and service.

“We are proud of this pet therapy program,” said Mike Goretzka, senior vice president of the locally owned Three Rivers Hospice and Family Home Health Services Day. “It’s good to give back to the community.”

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064 or on Facebook.