“I don’t even think of them as customers, they are my NW CT family,” recently retired UPS driver Joe Zagata said.  He continued, “and it’s not ALL about the dogs, EVERYONE was special, even if they didn’t have dogs.’

Those of you who received UPS packages over the years, especially those who share their homes with dogs, know Joe Zagata. And no doubt your furry friend anticipated each of his visits WAY more than you did.

Joe was born in Germany, his family moved to Hamden, Connecticut when he was two, and he was raised there in a very dog-friendly household. He figures “dogs are the greatest creatures that God put on this earth. They give you unconditional love.” So from Day One of his job as a UPS driver he carried treats for his four-legged friends.

Dispensing doggie biscuits does not come without its risks, as Joe describes the four times he was nipped. “It was never really the dog’s fault, I probably scared them.”

Over the course of his career he stopped daily at NW Building Supply in Cornwall Bridge where he met store manager Jeremie Tilson. There Joe would heat up his lunch and dinner (he worked long shifts!) and over the years became good friends with Jeremie. Once Jeremie discovered Joe’s impending retirement plans, he knew he had to do something special for Joe, worthy of his many years of service, his dedication to his customers and of course, devotion to our dogs.

Covid-19 disrupted his initial idea of a big dog-friendly party this past spring. He took a few weeks to think about it, blew the dust off the professional photo equipment he had in the basement and the idea for the Great Cornwall Dog Book was hatched.

Jeremie floated the idea past folks in town he knew to be customers of Joe and “they loved it,” he told me. He continued, “I had the equipment, space, lights and now the enthusiasm of Joe’s customers, if only I had experience taking canine portraits!” In the months that followed, he stealthily gathered email addresses and contacted as many customers of Joe’s with dogs and either had them sit in his studio for a photo session or send him pictures.

Initially practicing on lighting stuffed animals in his home, he then graduated to 15 minute sessions with a bag of treats on hand at all times. He shot for three months straight and the final product was a handsome book full of Joe’s best buddies. Now he had to find the most appropriate way to present it to Joe.

One mild day last fall Jeremie invited Joe out for a farewell lunch celebration. Midway through the meal he presented Joe with the book, as you will see for yourselves in the video link below, Joe was completely surprised and very emotional when he saw what Jeremie had created with all his furry friends inside.

“Joe’s one heck of a guy, they don’t make them like that anymore,” Jeremy told me. He added, “He was always going above and beyond and I had to  do something special for him.” Everyone who participated got a copy of the book. For those who would like to order one or just check it out, see the links below to the digital version of the book, where to order as well as the video of Jeremie presenting Joe the book at lunch.

So, what’s next for Joe? He is looking forward to doing some traveling with his wife (no dogs, she’s allergic!).  As for Jeremie, people who have discovered his photographic talents are asking for family portraits, but for the time being it remains just a hobby, but you never know!

Check him out on Instagram @jeremietilson.

Video link: https://youtu.be/ngs50zq0Yx4

Link to the pdf of the book: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1sFUIpxwCfPFqu54cHaetISjIN4-_oqa2?usp=sharing

Link to buy a copy from Blurb: https://www.blurb.com/b/10274509-for-joe

Bob Meyers

📸: Photos by Jeremie Tilson