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Dog's best friend - Excellence in Public Service

By Mary Peterson, UNH Foundation
January 31, 2007

Dr. Z and her dog, Abby, with Margaret Jackson
© Lisa Nugent, Dr. Z and her dog, Abby, with Margaret Jackson, a resident at a local assisted living facility

It could be said that Professor Jerilee Zezula’s remarkable career of service—as a veterinarian, associate professor of applied animal science, and vigorous advocate for animal welfare—was ignited in the sixth grade by her love of a wayward cocker spaniel.

Little Blackie would disappear regularly from their yard in Kittery, Maine, until one day he did not come home. The devastated family did everything they could do to find him. Finally, the Animal Rescue League in Boston contacted them. The police had found Blackie wandering homeless in Brighton, Mass., and traced him through his dog license.

At the urging of her sixth-grade teacher, the young Zezula wrote about the incident for the local newspaper. Zezula recalls that the article was reprinted “everywhere” and she was interviewed by reporters and photographed with her dog.

It was both a public and personal recognition of what was to be a lifelong passion. Animal care became the focus of Zezula’s career.

When Doc Z (as she is affectionately known by her students) came to the university in 1979 to teach in the small animal care program, “pet therapy” had just become a hot topic. “The nursing homes were calling shelters wanting animals to come visit. The shelters contacted me to see if our students wanted to do it. Our students were already being taught to evaluate animals for health and temperament, so we got involved,” she says.

Zezula became the creator and founder of ElderPet in New Hampshire. Based at the Thompson School, the program is an affiliate of the Delta Society. In addition to providing pet visitations, the program offers support, assistance, and counseling to senior citizens and persons with disabilities, desiring to own or already owning pets.

Through this work, Zezula has become a licensed Pet Partner Instructor, an Animal Assisted Therapy I Instructor, and with her German shepherd, Abby, a registered Pet Partner. Zezula also teaches a class called Animal Assisted Activities and Therapy at UNH.

ElderPet member and Pet Partner, Julie Williams, tells the story of visiting an elderly resident at a nursing home in Salem, N.H. “One of the residents, Mr. Bailey, became particularly fond of my dog, Tony. The sparkle in his eyes when he greeted Tony said more than words could ever say.”

When Bailey passed away, Williams attended his memorial service with her dog. “Tony was like a celebrity in the church,” she writes. “As we walked down the aisle, my eyes filled with tears when I saw the picture [of Mr. Bailey and Tony]. It truly made me realize what a difference we make.”

In the early 1980s, realizing that the field of animal control was underappreciated, its officers undereducated and often frustrated, Zezula became one of the founders of the New England Animal Control Humane Academy. This nonprofit organization meets each summer for a week on the Durham campus to provide guidance and training to officers from throughout New England.

“[The program] offers courses in animal law enforcement, disease control, and dealing with animals—topics that we wouldn’t get anywhere else in New England,” says Craig Petrie, animal control officer for the Rutland, Vt., police department. Petrie, a 27-year veteran of his department, has attended the academy every year since 1980 and has been on the board “for most of those years.” Many students come back year after year.

Zezula and her husband, Alan—a veterinarian at the Yankee Greyhound Racetrack in Seabrook, N.H.—share their life with two dogs: Abby, and Genda, a retired racing greyhound. She tells a story of Genda, who is “people friendly” but afraid of all dogs except other greyhounds. “One of the funniest things I remember is a nursing home visit we made together. When an announcement came over the loudspeakers, Genda started prancing and looking around, as if she was back at the track parading. I said to her, ‘What is it with you, anyway?’”


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