ORANGE PARK – Tom Silverblatt is no stranger to the hallways of Orange Park Medical Center, its patients and its staff.He donated more than 2,100 meals during peak COVID-19 cases to …
ORANGE PARK – Tom Silverblatt is no stranger to the hallways of Orange Park Medical Center, its patients and its staff.
He donated more than 2,100 meals during peak COVID-19 cases to the staff at the hospital. And while his meals donation campaign came to an end, his volunteer service at the hospital did not. He’s no longer delivering to-go boxes from Whitey’s Fish Camp food and other local restaurants. Now he’s delivering smiles with his dog, Buddy.
“I’m retired and this gives me something nice to do,” Silverblatt said. “It gives me a way to give back to my community and I enjoy it very much. It keeps me active and it keeps Buddy active. He comes home after working here and collapses because it’s exhausting work getting pet all day and listening to commands, but he always takes a well-deserved nap when he gets home. It’s great.”
Silverblatt is no stranger to the life of a therapy dog. His previous dog, Blue, a blue-nosed pit bull, was a therapy dog and it died about two years ago.
“I wasn’t going to get another dog and then my neighbor approached me two months later and said his sister had been incarcerated and that he was in charge of taking care of her two kids and dog. He said he couldn’t handle the kids, [and] the dog, too, and asked if I was interested in becoming the dog’s new owner.”
Silverblatt wasn’t quite ready to commit to that so he instead opted to have a meet-and-greet week with the four-year-old yellow Labrador named Buddy. He quickly realized that Buddy was an excellent dog and a smart one, too. He also learned that Buddy came from an abusive background. If Silverblatt even raised his hand, Buddy would cower, which he says is a sign that Buddy was likely hit often in his previous home.
“I wanted to give him a new life and so I did,” he said. “We started training for therapy and he was super smart. He caught on to everything so quickly. He got his Canine Good Citizen training and his therapy certification from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, which is something hospitals and places like that require. “When I got him at four years old, he had never even seen water and labs are water dogs, you know. He had never been around another dog and had never known what a toy was. He lived a life of torture, but he’s the sweetest dog you’ll ever meet.”
Buddy and Silverblatt have been to many places already as a therapy duo, bringing smiles and free pets to everyone they encounter. They’ve been to nursing homes, schools and outside of OPMC. They were finally allowed to go in and see patients on June 3 and Silverblatt said it was an amazing experience.
“It was amazing to see the smiles of the patients and even the staff because you know who doesn’t love a good dog,” he said. “My goal is to get where we can see kids in the hospital so we can see their smiles. You get that with other people too, but I want to help the kids who are hurting.”
They loved it today. We did a meet and greet with the group in the Impatient Rehabilitation Center on the campus. Buddy is a bigger dog so he can’t go to the ICU or places like that where a lot of machinery is found or where a patient’s bed is higher up, so it’s this center for now.”
Silverblatt is excited to continue bringing Buddy to OPMC. It not only gives him something to do, but it keeps Buddy’s mind working and sharp. But most importantly, it brings smiles to people in need.
“You can only play so much golf. I play golf, I drive fast cars at a racetrack [FIRM Park] in Keystone Heights, and I do this with Buddy,” Silverblatt said. “It’s a win-win life for us.”