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Dog Therapy – 'People Should Be Aware'
By Lois Thomson

For the past few years, Lynette Tomasetti has struggled with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that starts in the bone marrow's plasma cells. She has undergone radiation treatments, numerous rounds of chemo, and two stem cell transplants. She hasn't had many bright spots during her hospital visits, but not too long ago, she discovered something that brought her a little bit of joy: dog therapy.

Tomasetti was in Jefferson Hospital back in April for nearly a week, this time with pneumonia. She recalls, "I was just laying in my bed at the hospital and a lady came in with a big, black dog. She asked for permission if she could come in with Arianna, her therapy dog." Arianna is a 95-pound Rottweiler, and Tomasetti said, "She is massive, and she looks even bigger than 95 pounds. I'm not really into big dogs, but she is so gentle and kind. She was dressed up like a ballerina. I could not believe how much it helped me. I had been in the hospital quite a few days at that point, and it's true, she really lifted my spirits."

Arianna's owner, Laura Sokolovic, is Director of Public Relations and Pet Therapy at Three Rivers Hospice, a division of Quality Life Services. She has been involved with pet therapy for 18 years, starting first with her Rottweiler, Athena; then when Athena passed, Anastasia, and now Arianna. She also owns Sebastian, a French mastiff. Because the size of the dogs could be a bit intimidating, Sokolovic said she started dressing them up. "I thought, 'How could I soften them up a little,' so they wear bows or scarves or glasses. Some people were taken a little aback at first, but then they started cracking up. Arianna even gets fitted for outfits."

While large dogs like Laura Sokolovic's Rottweiler Arianna might be intimidating, Sokolovic said they are her preference for pet therapy. "Bigger dogs are better. Nobody is going to hurt them, like by pulling their ears or doing anything to them. They are perfect for wheelchair height, and can put their paws up on the bed so people can pet them. And it makes me feel good to be a good ambassador for that breed."

She takes them to nursing homes and hospitals, and even schools. Sokolovic pointed out that Sebastian has had health issues and various surgeries. "He has three legs, and amputees can really bond with him. He encourages them, and people can feel the love."

Sokolovic and her dogs visited Tomasetti at West Penn during another hospital stay, and Sokolovic also offered to take them to Tomasetti's home. Tomasetti exclaimed, "They're too beautiful just for me," and asked if she could invite a few family and friends to a little luncheon. "So that's how I had a dog therapy party. I wanted people to be aware of how much a therapy dog can help."

For more information on pet therapy, call (724) 431-0770 or visit www.qualitylifeservices.com.

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