Therapy dog ​​Zavya and handler Carol Zablocki offered comfort to nursing home patients


Whenever Zavya arrived at a nursing home to provide therapy, the faces of her charges would light up. She dried tears, prompted smiles and offered special solace to whichever patient she could tell was having a particularly bad day.

Her techniques were tactile and straightforward. It never took long for patients to open up about their lives before they were confined to the care facility’s sterile rooms. Particularly receptive residents would turn to Zavya’s companion Carol and ask: “can I give her a treat?”

Therapy dog ​​Zavya and her human “chauffeur” Carol Zablocki spent nine years visiting nursing homes from Pine Rock Manor in Warner to the Birches in Concord, sometimes voluntering up to three times a week.

Although Zavya retired in April to spend more time on her hobbies – digging, barking and playing in the mud – the big, affectionate canine is still a natural at offering comfort to humans.

Zavya is a Great Pyrenees, a gentle breed that historically protected herds 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 raised and undoubtedly the sweetest. They learned about the breed when they saw one of the white fluffy dogs at a rest stop in Ohio.

Jim is Polish, and Zavya’s name is derived from the Polish word for a snowstorm. She is small for the breed, weighing in at 90 pounds, but the perfect height for someone in a wheelchair to dispense head pats without leaning down. Carol calls her a “pocket Pyre.”

Zavya loves people and being pet, and will nudge people’s hands until they ruffle her thick white fur. The Zablockis had a previous 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 arrived at the Zablockis’ Warner home when she was six months old. “When we got her, she didn’t have a name, had never walked on grass. She didn’t know how to do stairs, didn’t walk on a leash, hated riding in cars – and was not housebroken,” Zablocki said. “It took her about a year to trust us.”

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

“We’ve gone into some facilities and somebody’s having a bad day, and they’re kind of crying or sitting there and we’ll bring her in, and then they start petting her and they get a smile on their face,” Carol said. “It’s something outside of the facility that reminds them of what they used to do and who they used to be.”

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

“Not only does petting a dog’s shiny coat feel good, it offers a means of facilitating progress both physically and emotionally,” a Therapy Dogs International flyer says. “It has been clinically proven that through petting, touching, and talking with animals, patients’ blood pressure is lowered, stress is relieved and depression is eased.”

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

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

Zavya boasts a pin on her Therapy Dog International scarf for 500 visits, but Carol estimates that she has been on more than 630 during her 9-year career. At 11 years old, she is approaching old age for a Great Pyrenees and suffers from arthritis.

“I think she misses it a little,” Carol said, although Zavya was never a fan of the car rides.

Zavya still volunteers as a “spokesdog” for the Pope Memorial SPCA. She and Carol attend public events like Market Days to represent the animal rescue society when adoption-eligible animals can’t be there.

The Zablockis advises any owners considering getting their dog certified as a therapy dog ​​to consult their trainer on a dog’s suitability. Therapy dogs don’t need to be a specific breed, but they must be friendly and calm. “The dog has to be well-behaved, it’s really critical,” Jim said.

A therapy dog ​​is different from a service dog, who aids one person with particular physical or emotional needs. “Service dogs are one on one because they’re there to help that individual that they’re with, whereas therapy dogs are one to many,” Carol said.

Aren’t you? she said to Zavya, one dog who has touched the hearts of many people. “Yeah!”

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