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Famous therapy dog Anastasia has her day

By Jennifer R. Vertullo
Friday, April 13, 2012, 2:53 p.m.

A regionally recognized Rottweiler sat before Pittsburgh council in her signature pink tutu and toenail polish as council president Darlene Harris declared Tuesday "Anastasia the Therapy Dog Day" in the city.

Anastasia and handler Laura Sokolovic were recognized along with fellow staff of Three Rivers Hospice & Family Home Health Services during Tuesday's council session.

Harris told fellow councilors about the first time she encountered the charming canine on Grant Street last year.

"I met Anastasia downstairs at the coffee shop," she recalled. "Here she was, on her way to see the mayor, and I couldn't resist her."

The therapy dog was in town to have her photo taken with Mayor Luke Ravenstahl for her annual promotional calendar. Harris stepped into the photo shoot shortly thereafter to be part of the project.

Sokolovic said meeting public officials such as the mayor, city councilors and even Gov. Tom Corbett is a bonus in an already rewarding field.

"Even without these honors and meeting these people, we would still be doing what we do every day with patients," she said. "We never thought it would grow to attention like this."

Three Rivers Hospice and Family Home Health Services launched its pet therapy program in 2001, when Sokolovic volunteered her time with her dog Athena. With Athena's passing, Sokolovic brought Anastasia into the program and began working full time as the company's director of public relations and the pet therapy program.

Harris said she supports and values dog therapy work.

"To see all the fine things Anastasia does " she brings life to all of the people she visits," she said.

Harris said Anastasia promotes the animal-human bond by bringing smiles to faces of those who need it most.She praised Sokolovic for raising such an extraordinary Rottweiler in a home filled with "love and positive energy."

Three Rivers Hospice owner Norm Rish described Anastasia as nothing short of exceptional. He said he isn't surprised by Pittsburgh council's recognition.

"This is a special dog, and she performs a special service," Rish said.

"She is always so well received. In comes Anastasia dressed to the nines, singing happy birthday. It does a tremendous thing and lifts everyone's spirit."

After receiving her proclamation, Anastasia howled an early "Happy Birthday" to Pittsburgh Councilman Bruce Kraus, who will celebrate his 58th birthday Friday.

In addition to her Three Rivers Hospice family, Anastasia was joined in Pittsburgh by supporters from White Oak Animal Safe Haven.

"Three Rivers Hospice and our shelter have participated in pet therapy together for a number of years," WOASH founder and president Ina Jean Marton said.

"Laura brings Anastasia, and we bring cats from the shelter. It's so rewarding to see how people respond to the touch of a dog or a cat.

"It brightens their day."

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