To Heal A Child’s Heart – “Gabriel’s Angels”: Pet Therapy Helping At-Risk Children

Posted on Posted in Cassie Gannis, Celebration, Pets, Uncategorized

Recently my dear friends David Horowitz and Damon Bollin invited me to a fundraiser for “Gabriel’s Angels” Unleash The Love.  What I didn’t expect was how moved I would be by the story of this organization.  Gabriel’s Angels mission statement is to “deliver healing pet therapy to at-risk children, nurturing their emotional development and enhancing the quality of their lives forever.

 

As I entered the lovely breakfast luncheon and met up with my friends I had the pleasure of meeting many of the therapy dogs and handlers.  These impressive animals and handlers even had their own hero cards!   I was moved to read all the thank you notes posted from the children on how the dogs made a difference in their lives.

 

I wondered how the organization came about.  Pam Gaber had been working at the Crisis Nursery in Phoenix.  One Christmas she told the children that she had just gotten a puppy.  She told them the dog’s name was Gabriel.  Each time she returned to work the kids would ask her about Gabriel.  She shared stories of his first bath, the puppy eating her shoe and how he ate the outside drip system.  The kids sat on the edge of their seats with each story.  One child, a victim of abuse and neglect, asked if she ever punished Gabriel.  Her answer was a huge teaching moment!  In Pam’s own words:

“Oh, no,” I said. “I just threw away the other shoe. So now I don’t have those shoes anymore. Gabriel didn’t mean to eat my shoe. I left it on the bedroom floor, and he thought it was a toy.”  I told them about the times Gabriel ate his bed and tore up the outdoor drip system.  They were always interested in hearing how, when Gabriel was challenging,  I never hurt him.  I now realize that those little stories were lessons about compassion for these kids.  They learned that Gabriel was a member of our family, and in my family we did not resolve issues with violence.

Each visit to the center she began to take an album of Gabe sleeping eating and playing.  Showing how the puppy was a part of her family.

 

Since the children at the center had started to bond with Gabe, Pam jumped on the chance to bring him to the annual Christmas party just in time for his first birthday.  Dressed in antler ears the kids were delighted to finally meet him!  Pam explained how she brought Gabe to meet them.  The kids gently petted and hugged Gabriel.  His velvety ears amazed the kids.  In Pam’s words, “The nursery became an oasis of peace and serenity. And the only difference that day was the presence of a gentle gray dog.”  Soon the line for pictures with Gabe was long.  It was this day that one lone little boy crying in the corner went up to Gabe and put his arm about him.  He immediately stopped crying and started to smile and laugh.  It was this day that shelter director and Pam realized that this dog was reaching children in no other way that people could.  And so Gabriel was invited back for regular visits.  Pam remembers thinking “that something magical had happened in that nursery, and I could either do something to create more magic, or I could do nothing and let it end there. I decided in that moment that I was going to do something. I just didn’t know quite what.”  Pam created Gabriel’s Angel’s that now serves over 13,000 abused children, neglected and at risk children in Arizona through innovative pet therapy!

 

 

Days after the event, I continued to think about Gabriel’s Angels and wanted to know more. So I contracted my friend, David, who invited me to the breakfast. I sent him a list of questions and these are his thoughts.

  • How did you hear about Gabriel’s Angels? What was your first encounter with them?
    • I was invited to the same breakfast that I invited you to several years ago.  I was so taken by the organization and the incredible service the agency provides to at risk children.

 

  • Why are Gabriel’s Angels so special to you?
    • GA is a child welfare agency that recognizes the significant difference that a dog can make in the life of a child.  The children who get to participate in visits from a pet therapy team learn unconditional love and have incredible outcomes in terms of reducing violence and learning healthy attachment.

 

  • Have you seen the therapy dogs and handlers interacting with children? What did you feel the children received from being with the dogs?
    • I have seen the dogs and handlers interact with children, and it’s magnificent.  I think there are some videos on the GA website, and there are also some videos that might be available from the office.

 

  • What do you feel are the most immediate needs of Gabriel’s Angel?
    • Money is always the most immediate need, but the organization can also use pet therapy volunteers and dogs as well as other volunteers.

 

  • What other events does Gabriel’s Angels have coming up? How can people help?
    • There is an event called Salud! in October which is the organization’s main fundraising GALA, and the breakfast that just occurred called “Unleash the Love” .  There are also one or two other smaller fundraisers throughout the year.

 

This amazing organization has over 150 volunteer therapy teams with 40 helping hands that deliver pet therapy to over 100 agencies free of charge to agencies and children!  Gabriel’s Angels goal is to reach over 10 thousand Arizona children.  The cost of therapy dog training is only $2,500.  Any donation helps a therapy dog get on his way to helping children and youth at risk! What a wonderful organization and way to help children!

 

 

Here are Website links to find out more

Gabriel’s Angel Website

Lola the therapy dog: http://www.azfamily.com/clip/12402845/meet-the-star-of-a-new-book-lola-the-therapy-dog

 

How do dogs make a difference in your life?  Send me your stories and photos!

 

 

My mom and a therapy dog

 

 

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