Gabriel's Angels Wins the Prestigious Sterling Award!
Celebrating 26 years of business excellence, the Sterling Award is one of the most coveted business awards in the Valley, with a rigorous application, judging and selection process. Four teams of judges each conduct an initial review of all applications and narrow the field to three finalists in each category. Once the finalists are identified, the judging teams visit those companies to conduct a personal interview and get a behind-the-scenes look at the operations. Once that step is complete, each judge independently casts a set of points for the finalists based on their embodiment of the award criteria. The points are tallied and the results remain secret until the day of the event. One of the highlights of the Sterling Awards Celebration is the highly anticipated video presentation of each of the 12 finalists. Only members of the Scottsdale Area Chamber of Commerce are eligible to apply for the Sterling Award.
Non-Profit - Gabriel’s Angels
The Sterling Award for Non-Profit recognizes a charitable organization contributing to the social, cultural and educational well-being of its constituents. (501C3)
Gabriel’s Angels delivers healing pet therapy to 13,000 abused, neglected and at-risk children. Gabriel’s Angels Pet Therapy program, encompassing 155 volunteer registered Pet Therapy Teams, is the core of the organization and provides service to 120 agencies for the purpose of intervening in the cycle of violence. The goal of the program is to improve the emotional health and well-being of children and help them develop skills that are precursors to preventing the cycle of violence. In developing the Pet Therapy program, Pam consulted child welfare experts to develop activities targeted at disrupting early patterns and predictors of violence before abused, neglected and at risk children grow into adulthood. Many researchers have noted that there are seven core behaviors - trust, affiliation, confidence, respect, self-regulation, awareness and tolerance - that allow children to mature successfully. These behaviors are missing in children who have suffered from abuse and neglect but can be taught through the unconditional love of a therapy dog. Gabriel’s Angels provides consistent weekly or bi-weekly Pet Therapy visits, or animal assisted activities, to partner agencies, with the average visit lasting 60 to 90 minutes with groups of 10 to 12 children. There is no cost to the participating agency to receive therapy visits for their children. Gabriel’s Angels has committed itself to breaking this cycle and restoring children’s right to grow and develop healthfully.
Also honored for their outstanding contributions in the nonprofit category were National MS Society, Arizona Chapter and Scottsdale League for the Arts.
Daphne’s Headcovers, a 31 year old Phoenix based company,has been a supporter of Gabriel’s Angels for five years. Jane Spicer, Owner and Founder of Daphne’s, has always been philanthropically minded and believes ‘we must do good, while we are doing well.’In her quest to become involved with a charity in a meaningful way, Jane diligently explored nonprofit organizations that especially resonated with her and her staff members. Over and over Gabriel’s Angels name routinely surfaced along with the amazing story of founding dog, Gabriel. A year ago, Jane decided she needed to listen to this intuitive message.
At what was to be a one-hour meeting, over coffee, Jane and Pam Gaber, CEO and Founder of Gabriel’s Angels, discovered their beliefs, passion and visions were a mirror image of one another – and the meeting lasted over three hours!
As the next several weeks passed, Jane was inspired and committed to design and produce a memorial golf club headcover honoring Gabriel that captures this therapy dog’s gentle spirit. When Jane received the first edition of the Gabriel headcover, she decided to present it to Pam at a breakfast meeting.
As Pam gazed at the one-of-a-kind Gabriel headcover, she was overjoyed. As the two friends talked, they agreed that two vital changes were needed before the final production. His eyes needed to be amber colored and he needed a gray nose. In the quest to make this tribute to Gabriel as perfect as possible, a new challenge was born.It appeared that even though Jane has access to worldwide resources none were capable of making a gray nose!With fierce determination and passion, Jane found a supplier who said ‘yes’ – and Gabriel’s gray nose was in production!
The day that Jane presented the final rendition of Gabriel’s headcover to Pam is one she will never forget.Complete with a re-created exact version of Gabriel’s ‘favorite’ bandana - Jane handed the Gabriel headcover to Pam. Within seconds, Pam’s expression conveyed her happiness, while her eyes shed tears of joy. It was a perfect reflection of Gabriel!
Bailey and I visit the children at A New Leaf. Recently, when we went there, we noticed there was a new 5 year old boy that would not participate or interact with anyone. The staff informed me, that this little guy spent a lot of time sitting in the corner and not playing with anyone- just staying to himself.
Well, on this visit, I decided to gather the children into a circle. I talked to them about how animals have feelings just like people do, and then I demonstrated how to gently brush Bailey's soft coat. I explained that Bailey had been treated badly before I adopted him, but that now he will never have to be afraid that he will be treated that way again. That he was in a loving home with a loving family.
Soon I noticed that the little boy had moved away from the corner and came closer to us. I noticed that he was watching the others brushing the dog, so I placed a brush on the floor. I then very gently asked him if he wanted to brush Bailey. His face lit up like Christmas, has he took the brush. He tenatively began stroking Bailey and asking all sorts of questions. When it was time to leave, the little boy who had not wanted anything to do with anyone, came to me and asked if he could hug Bailey and me goodbye.
Here was a child who would not interact or connect with anyone and with this one visit, he started to form a trusting bond with Bailey. This is why we are a Gabriel's Angels Pet Therapy Team - to reach out to children and help make them whole.
Life Happens – Change Means New Opportunities
By Sharon Higgins
Risa, a 4-year-old Labrador/Golden Retriever mix, loves visiting the children at AuroraDay School with Sharon - as a Gabriel's Angels Therapy Team. Risa’s career as a Therapy dog started after her first career path as a service dog ended.
Growing up Risa had extensive training and exposure to many things to help prepare her. She loved being out with people everyday, going wherever Sharon went including grocery shopping, to the movies and even Disneyland. Once Risa's "old job" ended and she became a pet again, Sharon could see that Risa needed a new job. One where she could again be around people, go places and share her special love for life. So, Sharon and Risa became a Therapy Dog Team for Gabriel’s Angels.
Risa and Sharon have just started this new career path earlier this year, but already Sharon can see how much the children and Risa are enjoying it. The children look forward to Risa’s visits and Risa knows what days she will be heading over to the school.
A favorite activity for the kids is reading to Risa. Risa loves to lay down next to the children as they read to her - she will lay her head or place her paw on whomever happens to be reading at the time. The children’s response to her attention motivates each child to read to her, even Johnny, who can not read yet, but will look at the pictures on the page and make up a story to tell her.
Risa’s grandfather made a coloring book, featuring Risa’s adventures for the kids and it was a huge success. Each child signed their name on the page they colored and Sharon put it into a book for the children to have at the school. More stories are being written and drawn for future visits.
Even though Risa’s life path has changed, she is still doing something she enjoys and touching many little hearts with her love and affection. As always, life lessons come from change and the new opportunities that change brings.
Making magical moments happen one child at a time….
Every day that Callie visits abused and neglected children... wonderful things happen. Smiles appear on sad faces. Giggles emerge from quiet and withdrawn children. These children, many of whom have rarely experienced a gentle and loving touch from another human being, learn how to be “gentle” with another living creature and are rewarded by Callie with kisses. And every now and then, there is what I call a “magic moment.”
At the Child Crisis Center in Mesa, Arizona, Callie visits a 10-month-old little boy, who was born to a drug-addicted mother, and as a result, has been neglected and abused. His therapist explains that as a result of this rough start to his short life, unlike other curious children of his age, he refuses to reach out to touch anyone or anything. Enter Callie. He sits quietly in front of her on his therapist’s lap, but unlike the other children, does not make any attempt to reach out and touch her soft and luxurious fur. But, he stares with his big brown eyes intently into her eyes and she returns her own unflinching gaze with her own soft brown, intelligent eyes. Several minutes pass. Then he slowly reaches out and gently cups her muzzle between his tiny hands. They are still staring at each other and both are frozen in the moment. The adults are holding their breath. Several seconds pass. He lets go and smiles broadly at her while she continues her loving gaze into his eyes. You can feel that there was a connection. It was only a moment, but it was magical.
On another day, we arrive at the Child Crisis Center to find a 9-year-old girl curled up in the corner in a fetal position. She’s a new arrival and it’s clear, she’s very traumatized. She refuses to leave her corner or to interact with anyone. Even when a staff member tells her a dog is there to visit, she does not react. I allow Callie to approach her on her own. Intuitively, she walks across the room and sits quietly, regally, beside the child for a moment. You can see the young girl turn her head slightly away from the wall to catch a glimpse of this creature. Then Callie softly pushes her nose between the child and the wall. The child rocks back on her heels and gives this dog a desperate hug as if her life depends on it. And, in that moment, it feels like it does.
Weeks pass. Soon this young girl is coming to the center of the room to participate whenever Callie comes to visit. She often holds a notebook in her hand. Every visit, she asks me more and more questions, noting my responses in her notebook.
“How much do you love your dog?”
“She loves you, doesn’t she?”
“Do you like to take care of her?”
“Will you always take care of her?”
One day, she asks me about the keychain attached to my backpack that says, “I love my dog.” And on the next visit, she presents me with a new keychain to put on my pack. She has lovingly crafted a string of clay hearts for me to add to my pack so, she tells me “the world will know how much I love my dog.”
After months of regular visits, one day we arrive at the Crisis Center and she is gone. While it saddens me not to see her, the staff shares with me what she has written in her journal, which she has left behind.
She writes, “Today is Wednesday. It’s going to be a good day. Callie is coming to visit.”
Every visit brought this troubled little girl a few moments of peace and happiness. The realization that unconditional love does truly exist. I am reminded of that every time I see that string of clay hearts on my pack when Callie and I get ready for our next visit—ready to make another magic moment, for a child who desperately needs it.
I am Ready to go...
by Pam and Joe Womeldorf
I'm Ready to go....
Dakota – his name says it all – it is a Native American name which means “A friend to All”. He is a very special dog was a rescueded golden retriever by Pam & Joe. Now, Dakota has his opportunity to pay it forward by being an unconditional companion to the young boys & girls at the Louis & Elizabeth Sands Branch Boys and Girls Club.
Pam & Joe visit there every Tuesday night where Dakota is greeted and treated like a “Rock Star." From the moment his paws hit the front door to when his tail leaves, he’s engrossed with sharing his love, joy & kindness with all that engage with him. He truly is a friend to all and all the children in his Tuesday night group are considered Dakota’s friends. The children put their name bone up on a wall hanging that Pam made. Here are just a few of the feelings and comments that the children expressed when asked why they love Dakota:
"Cute & Fluffy and he likes to do tricks
Always runs to you when you call him
Likes his tail
Feel loved, safe & comfortable when around Dakota
He doesn’t doubt you
When I’m angry he makes me feel relaxed and happy.
Reminds me of another dog they had
Makes me feel happy."
Pam & Joe absolutely know that Dakota loves to go to the Sands Boys and Girls Club. One day he pulled out his Gabriel’s vest and layed it on the family room floor for them to notice. It was then and there we could tell he was definitely trying to tell us it was time to visit his friends!
Amy and Mickey
Amy Blake and her handsome dog Mickey have been volunteers with Gabriel’s Angels for over two years. They bring pet therapy services to teenage girls at Fairview House, a program of La Paloma Family Services. Their partnership and commitment is what Gabriel’s Angels is all about. The teens in this group home setting receive an invaluable service which supports their emotional well being.
Amy, a financial planner, learned about Gabriel’s Angels from a friend at agility class who happened to be a volunteer/Tucson Board member. “She nagged me for a long time” and when Amy was ready to retire from agility she knew her friend was right: Gabriel’s Angels was the perfect match for her and Mickey.
Mickey is almost 11 years old now. He is a Border Collie mix, or as Amy describes him, a mutt in a Border Collie costume. He was adopted at 1 ½ years of age through the Arizona Border Collie rescue organization. Mickey is not ‘driven’ like a border collie. He has the most calm demeanor and Amy had selected him to be a companion to her dog, Cheetah. Mickey is a therapy natural, as NOTHING rattles this boy’s good nature. She and Mickey were registered with Delta Society (Now Pet Partners) in 2010 and joined Gabriel’s Angels shortly thereafter.
Amy has been a foster home for dogs, a dog trainer and in her previous career she was a social worker. She knew she wanted to focus on at risk children and she brings an array of skills that are very helpful to her work with teens. Amy is fully prepared and fully flexible every time she visits her girls. “You never know if there will be 2 girls or 12 and so you have to have options available.” Amy has been remarkably creative and therapeutic in her work. Her tools, just for example, include chalk, beading supplies, agility equipment, magazines to make collages, and stones. STONES? You might ask… Yes, Amy has brought rough stones and polished stones and she explains to the girls how the smooth (and much more beautiful) stones have been tumbled. She talks of how we all get tossed around in life, even Mickey has been tossed around, having been abandoned by his previous owner. The smooth stones are an example of life’s tumbling experiences, and it isn’t all bad.
Amy describes how working on collages is an opportunity for everyone to get involved and express themselves without judgment. Everyone’s artistic offering is always good. They even made a fish aquarium and hung it on the wall! One special visit Amy played a feature film in which Amy’s dog Cheetah had a role. But the heart of each visit comes with Mickey. “Sometimes the girls are having interpersonal issues (i.e. not getting along) and I make sure they each have private time with Mickey. They may go for a walk or just cuddle with Mickey on the couch. Mickey’s favorite part is getting all that attention, being pet and cuddled. He also likes when they throw the ball for him.
Mickey also plays an important role in helping the girls understand and express themselves. “I’ll ask, how do you think Mickey is feeling? How does Mickey express his feelings?” And the girls are engaged in an emotional and intellectual discussion that can help them understand and express their own feelings.
Amy knows she and Mickey have a positive impact on the girls. “It took a while for the girls to accept that we were going to keep coming back, be consistent and that they can trust this person (with the dog). But that’s OK, they need to learn if someone is trust worthy. I knew I had ‘arrived’ when one of the influential girls was moving out of the home and she told the rest that they could trust me.” Anyone who knows teenagers, knows that means everything. Thank you Amy and Mickey for being there for the girls.
Tucson Dog of the Month
Hello, my name is Honey - I want to tell you about a special dog that lives at the same house where I live. You could say she is my big sister! Her name is Grace, but I call her Gracie, she is 14 years old, with kind gentle eyes, I love her. Ever since I came to our home, Gracie and Jill (she is one of our people) would go on special trips to visit folks in the hospital. Then about two years ago Grace and Jill became registered with Gabriel’s Angels and bi- weekly “working” trips were planned to visit places other than just the hospitals. After the first visit to a New Beginnings for Women and Children site, Grace told me about all the energetic young children who brushed her coat, gave her treats and learned how to give her gentle hugs.
The activity that I think is the best for Gracie is the “Four Leashes Game.” This is when four decorated leashes are added to Gracie’s collar and four children and Jill take Gracie for a walk! The evening visits were filled with lots of fun. One evening the teens joined in the group activity. Everyone was busy with all of the activities Jill brought along, but Gracie noticed a teen quietly sitting away from all the action. Gracie could sense that he needed some extra attention, so she led Jill over the young man. That is when Gracie is at her best, she nuzzled him and he reached for her and held her tight for several moments. She gave him some gentle kisses on his face to clear up his tears and when he told Jill that he really missed his dog and didn’t think he would ever see his dog again, she had to hold back her tears. Gracie explained to me that’s what being a Therapy Dog is all about – unconditional love and the promise of being there for those who need you the most.
One day two years ago, when Jill was giving Gracie a bath, she noticed a large lump on Gracie’s leg. Jill took Gracie to the veterinarian’s and when they came home, I heard Jill say the word cancer. I did not know what to think… “Wow dogs can get cancer too?” That’s when I learned how brave Gracie really is, she had surgery, and every day for four weeks she went to have radiation therapy. I went along on her last day of treatment and we celebrated that soon she would be back “working” with the children again.
Jill and Gracie are now regular visitors at the Frank and Edith Morton Boys & Girls Club. Gracie tells me that she has to go through an enormous game room to get to the room where Jill sets up the Animal Assisted Activities. Before Gracie can get to the door, the children are lined up ready to meet with “Team Grace!” Gracie says “Honey you can’t imagine how nice it is to see all the children – my tail can’t wag fast enough!”
Gracie has made many new friends at the FEM Boys & Girls Club, many have gotten over their fear of dogs as they learn how to “greet a dog” and brush her coat. Jill teaches the children how to train Gracie to do “sit” and “down.” When Gracie does the “sit” or “down” the children give her a treat…wow is she lucky!
One of the Animal Assisted Activities that Jill does is place on the table, a message book for Gracie. Gracie is always excited to tell me about the messages the children write in her purple book…here are just a few:
“I wish I culd have a dog like you grace,”
“Grace your so cool I like you. You are SOFT.”
“I love you Grace I will never forget you”
“I hade Cancer”
Did you notice the last quote from one of the children was that they had cancer – just like Gracie? I am sure when she heard the story of Gracie’s cancer, that girl gave her a very special hug and keeps returning when she sees Gracie back at the clubhouse.
I only hope that one day I can be a Gabriel’s Angel just like Gracie. I can not stop wagging my tail at the thought of becoming “Team Honey!” I will teach many children how important it is to trust, respect and love everyone around you just like Gracie.
Jackson and Nugget
Daryl Curran and Janice Burns have been a volunteering twosome with Gabriel’s Angels for over 2 years. Having moved to Tucson from Phoenix several years ago, they both were interested in doing something rewarding with their dogs, ‘the boys,’ in their new community. Nugget is a 10 year old Golden Retriever that Janice adopted 9 years ago and Daryl met Jackson 8 years ago when he was a just a puppy.
Daryl with Jackson and Janice with Nugget visit the children at the Greyhound Family Shelter, a program of the Primavera Foundation. The shelter serves underprivileged, homeless families, with children. The children range in age from infants to teens. Janice and Daryl also have a “Helping Hand” volunteer, Patty Santa Cruz, who joins them when they visit every other week. Patty is there to assist with all the activities the kids engage in with Jackson and Nugget.
Jackson and Nugget have learned that one of the favorite activities for the children is to brush them. Nugget is very happy to lay there and get all the attention but during the heat of summer, Nugget stays home to stay cool. Janice and Daryl both accompany Jackson until it cools off again this fall. At the end of the visit they pass out treats for the kids to give to the dogs and that is EVERYONE’s favorite time.
Daryl and Janice have a wide variety of activities they share with the kids. But what Janice likes best is how the kids start running around in circles screaming “the dogs are here! the dogs are here!” and they come to hug the dogs. It’s that initial excitement that she finds so rewarding. Daryl likes playing doggy bingo, but what gets him excited is watching how some of the younger kids who aren’t very familiar with dogs will shy away at first, maybe even cry when they see the dogs, but they warm up so quickly. After just one or two visits they will be among the kids that are eager and excited to see the dogs. Daryl and Janice know they are making a difference in those kids’ lives.
Meet Shayna and Molly
Marcie Velen and her girls, Shayna and Molly, have been with Gabriel’s Angels for 3 years. Marcie became interested in pet therapy after realizing Shayna needed a job. “She was just way too busy at home and not in a productive way!” At her own job, Marcie was a social worker in the child welfare field and when she learned about Gabriel’s Angels, at a pre-party for the Animal Fair vendors, she knew it was a prefect melding of her interests and experience. While Marcie had four dogs at the time, she knew only Shayna and Molly had those qualities that make a potential therapy dog: they are calm and polite and very very friendly with children and adults. So, she signed them up for obedience class and 5 months later she completed the therapy team registration process.
Marcie decided to make herself available to the facility with the greatest need at the time, and was assigned to the preschool at the Child/Family Center of La Frontera. The therapeutic preschool provides intensive treatment for children ages 2-6 with serious emotional/behavioral issues. “I hadn't really thought of working with toddlers but it turned out to be a nice match for both of my girls. They are big dogs and just naturally so laid back that it isn’t a problem with little guys who may not be the most gentle with the dogs.” She visits the 3 classrooms every other week.
Shayna is an Anatolian Shepherd mix and Molly is ‘probably’ a Great Pyrenees mix. They are now 6 years old and were adopted from the Pima Animal Care Center, having been found together, as strays. They take turns visiting the preschoolers and the kids usually start guessing which dog is coming through the door. They don’t seem to have a preference for either dog and many of them use their names interchangeably. “Sometimes these little guys are just as fascinated by my double-sided ID tag which shows pictures of both dogs and I use that interest to help them distinguish between the two dogs or even to help with their speech and have them say their names clearly. “
One of Marcie’s favorite experiences at the preschool is when a timid child starts off clinging to the teacher out of fear and over time gains the confidence to relax and enjoy the dog. The more verbal kids will learn how to ask the owner if they may pet the dog and they all learn how to approach a dog. “We are not only helping them learn to be kind to animals (and each other), you can readily see the lessons in impulse control, taking turns, making choices and building self esteem. They are so proud when the dog follows their directions to sit down or when they can lead the dog with a leash. The older kids will show a newcomer the right way to meet a new dog.” One girl who had a problem with stuttering was noted by the teacher to speak clearly for the first time in class when she was speaking to the dog. Another never seemed to have a smile on her face except when the dog was there. Some of the children are in foster care or have been adopted and they all seem interested in the story on how the dogs were adopted and have such a happy family. “And I know the kids care about the dogs too because someone always asks me ‘where’s Shayna?’ or ‘where’s Molly?” when they are not there and they ask why she is at home and what is she doing. “
The preschoolers' favorite activities are giving Molly a treat (that's by far Molly favorite activity too), taking a dog for a walk or playing doctor with the stethoscope. Many of them don’t really care where the heart is and they place it on the dog’s head. Marcie likes to ask if they can hear what the dog is thinking and its fun to see the kids express themselves through the dog. Sometimes they say ‘she wants a cookie’ because that’s what the kids really want to do, give her a cookie. Sometimes they say "she wants to stay here all day”!
Maureen “Reenie” Romey has been with Gabriel’s Angels almost 3 years. Her partner is Aika, the sweetest wirehaired dachshund you’ll ever meet. This duo brings unconditional love and joy to some of the teens in Tucson who haven’t always had the best of breaks in life.
Reenie, her husband and their 2 wirehaired dachshunds came to Tucson 5 years ago from upstate New York, where Reenie had been a College Administrator. When their older dachshund passed away Reenie felt she and Aika both needed something new in their lives. She searched the internet, knowing she wanted to contribute to the community. Reenie learned about Delta Society (now called Pet Partners), and how she and Aika might become a registered pet therapy team. She knew Aika had the right stuff, “she has such a great personality and was outgoing and friendly” and “ I knew she would pass all the practical parts of the test because she is just so at ease.” However, Aika doesn’t always like to lay down on command, but she DID and the team was registered in the spring of 2009. Later that year, at an event at Brandi Fenton Park, she discovered Gabriel’s Angels and by the fall they were an official “team”
Reenie and Aika began their work at Reunion House, a program of Our Family Services, which provides 30 day shelter services for teens. The teens may be in the care of Child Protective Service or in the Juvenile Court system or may be homeless teens on their own. Reenie remembers a young mother there who started out curled up on the couch when she first met Aika. She was too afraid to interact with her. Reenie has learned that most people who are afraid have had a bad experience with a dog in the past. She talked about that experience with this young lady and helped her learn compassion by explaining that experience was most likely the result of a dog being as much afraid of her as she is now. That teenager learned to care about Aika and became one of her biggest fans.
After a year and half Reenie began volunteering at Springboard, where she continues to visit today. This Shelter, a program of Teen Challenge of Arizona, is a 90 day shelter for youth in crisis. Reenie finds the girls to be ‘sweet’ and Aika provides an avenue for the girls to talk. Aika also seems to know who is needing special attention and she decides who to approach. If available, Aika will start licking that teen’s toes!! And THAT’S enough to make someone’s day! Reenie brings toys for Aika and the girls like to play with her, though, Aika does seem to think it’s funny to roll the ball under the couch and watch people crawl under the couch to get it. Last fall Reenie brought special cookie dough to the Shelter. The girls baked the DOG cookies which became a raffle prize for a lucky Gabriel’s Angels team at the volunteer luncheon. And the card they attached to the cookies said thanks to Gabriel’s Angels for being there and coming to visit. At Christmas time Reenie brought an arts and crafts project for the girls to make Christmas cards. She took pictures of each girl with Aika for them to keep and, if they wanted, to attach to a card. One girl made a card for her parents and explained how much Springboard had meant to her and how much she liked Aika.
Reenie loves being able to give back in the community, “especially for children and especially sharing Aika because she is so special.” And what’s Aika’s favorite part of the job? She just likes getting there! She couldn’t be more excited, and now at age 12, after about 45 minutes she’s pooped and she knows it was a job well done.
Season’s Reflections ~ Pam & Joe Womeldorf and Dakota
For the first 17 months of being a co-registered therapy team with our Golden Retriever, Dakota, we visited a Boys & Girls Club. During this time we gained immense understanding of the value of the unconditional love of a therapy dog for at-risk children. After soul searching we decided to bring pet therapy to a different group of youth – ones who have experienced life through many unfortunate events.
We now bring Dakota to All My Children, a Phoenix residential group home. On our first visit we watched with joy as nine teenage girls greeted us and became immediately enamored with Dakota (aka the Rock Star) with warm hugs and big smiles! At this moment it became clear that we were exactly where we needed to be. We shared with the girls how Dakota came into our life as a rescue dog, and how his loving character paved the way for the training applicable to become a Gabriel’s Angels therapy dog. We were humbled as each girl opened up with us about their uniqueness, favorite sports and interests. A favorite activity was viewing on our IPAD the brief video about Golden Retrievers-Animal Planet Dogs 101.
In closing our first visit, we gave each girl a small spiral notebook that they personalized with their name, decorated with some markers and added more personal information. This book will be a mini journal of our pet therapy visits, including their experiences and anything they wish to share. The girls have agreed to let us insert photos or inspirational messages.
We look forward to a new year of teachable moments with teen girls through the unconditional love of our therapy dog.
The Heart of Hope ~ Pam Reinke
My beautiful four-year old Golden Doodle, Hope, and I visit teenage boys at Cenpatico School in Chandler. We arrived for our first visit of the school year and the environment was palpably tense as we entered the classroom. Although Hope sensed the strain, she moved around the room to greet each individual student.
Suddenly several boys on the perimeter of the room stated that they didn't care about seeing Hope. As my enthusiastic dog insisted on approaching each boy, one teen who was making a bird feeder became outraged at Hope’s interruption and yelled, "I don't want to see the stupid dog. Can't you see I'm busy making something?" Acknowledging his wishes, we moved slowly away.
Luckily there were boys in the center of the room who welcomed her happy face and cold nose. Hope responded with multiple high fives - her trademark greeting.
I stayed by Hope’s side while rustling through my ACT bag for the stethoscope. With the boys’ curiosity rising, I explained how we were going to listen to our own hearts and then Hope's heart.All eyes were directed to us as I explained anatomically where the human heart is in relation to the canine heart. As each boy placed the stethoscope on Hope’s heart his eyes would light up!The childlike innocence each one was struggling to hide seemed to surface for everyone to see.
Then Hope nudged me towards the perimeter of the room to share her heartbeat with the unwilling boys. I followed the leash. Hope knew what I did not know…the boys were now willing to hear her heartbeat.
Then one of the teens asked, "What's the point of all this, Ms. Pam? This is stupid!" The biggest boy challenged me, “You say dogs have unconditional love. How can that be true when the newest religious and scientific studies say that dogs have no souls!How can they possibly know love?”
As I gazed at Hope I pondered how to answer this young man. Carefully and calmly I said, “I find it hard to understand how any study could substantiate that as fact. It is a personal belief… a feeling you get in your gut about something that is right or wrong. A dog sees you from the inside out. They see you for what you are and accept you for who you are. Hope doesn’t care about the walls you have erected to keep hurt out, or the show you put on to appear larger than your peers. Dogs see through all of that.” In closing I said, “Whether you believe this or not, Hope came today and changed each heart in this room to match her heart.”
A long moment of silence followed. The biggest boy said, "Thank you - that was a good answer. I can understand that."
By the time we were ready to conclude our visit these teenagers had lowered their defenses and allowed themselves to care – if even for a moment. I watched in amazement how Hope had managed to melt negative feelings away and open hearts. As we walked toward the door to leave, the boy with the bird feeder stopped us so he could gently ruffle Hope’s ears with both hands.
Hope was smiling ear to ear.
Pam with her 3 Therapy Dogs...Benny, Bugzy & Hope
Dogs Know Best ~ Jaime Cresto & Remy
Gabriel’s Angels Therapy Team Jamie and her striking Rottweiler, Remy, visit 7 and 8 year old children at the New Leaf after-school program.
A favorite activity is for Jamie and Remy to have several kids join together in a group setting, either talking or performing an activity. One day an uncomfortable situation arose and Remy decided quickly that he knew exactly how to handle it.
Jamie and the kids were in a circle discussing how to care for a dog with Remy lying comfortably in the middle with the children taking turns brushing him. Suddenly, two boys got into a loud argument - shouting and hitting each other. Remy immediately got up and walked away from the circle, pulling hard on the leash to move far away … then he simply laid down.
The boys stopped. Jamie gathered the kids to talk about how their actions affect others – even dogs. The discussion included the impact of an apology and the importance of respect for the feelings of others. To complete this lesson that Remy had so keenly orchestrated, Jamie asked the boys if they would be willing to apologize to Remy and each other. The boys agreed, apologized to each other and then gave Remy the most genuine apology.
Imagine the power of this ‘bully breed’ therapy dog eloquently modeling the behaviors of respect and tolerance…and the true meaning of pet therapy.
Jaime and Remy
Springtime Love ~ Lisa Lerner & Ben
The minute Lisa’s car turns into the parking lot at the Crisis Nursery, her Havenese therapy dog Ben, reacts – excited that he is about ready to visit his toddlers!The children happily descend upon this seasoned Gabriel’s Angels team as Ben cuddles close for brushing and hugs. Lisa is always struck how the children seem to understand that Ben does not discriminate between them as he takes turns nuzzling each one.
On a particular visit recently, a staff member directed Lisa to Marcos, a new boy in the corner of the room, curled up into a fetal position.As Ben approached slowly to give a soft greeting - magic happened.Marcos opened up to Ben like a flower in bloom! His arms encircled Ben’s soft coat and Lisa watched as both child and dog seemed to belong in a world meant only for the two of them. Giggles, tail wags and multiple hugs became a charming visual effect that stole the moment.
Lisa decided to capitalize on this potential ‘teachable moment’ and asked Marcos if he wanted to walk with Ben around the playground. Without hesitation, the little boy whojust moments earlier had been alone in a corner, jumped up to walk with his new found friend.Lisa and Marcos talked about Ben and how he loved children.Without clearly understanding the power of this encounter, Marcos experienced first-hand the joys of trust, attachment and unconditional love….all from a therapy dog.
Ben with his family, Lisa, Nelson & Jerry
Tricks Help Build Self-Esteem by Gerri Kursinsky
Boji is a 13-year old Schnoodle (Schnauzer-Poodle mix), who has been a Gabriel’s Angels therapy dog for 7 years! Along with her owner-handler Gerri, she visits teenagers at Florence Crittenton where shelter, education, counseling and social support is provided to at-risk girls and young women who are struggling with issues and challenges caused by poverty, abuse, neglect, crime and violence.
Through her years visiting the teens, Boji has mastered many entertaining tricks and appears to especially enjoy doing them for the girls. On each visit the teens take turns asking Boji to perform – which builds their self-esteem and increases their ability to interact respectfully with one another. On any given visit, Boji will shake with either paw, sit pretty on both hind legs while giving a ‘hi-five,’ roll over and even dance!
Boji has developed a sense for when a girl is tentative or shy and will tenderly coax her to eventually come close and give pets. Gerri has witnessed this first interaction move forward to the same girl anxiously awaiting Boji’s return – which ultimately builds the important social skill of trust.
Boji looks forward to a new year of bringing unconditional love to at-risk teenagers as a Gabriel’s Angels Therapy Dog – retirement is not in her plans!
Sweet Transformation by Julie Moran
Payson, an 11-year-old Black Labrador/Golden Retriever mix, loves visiting the toddlers at the Child Crisis Center in Mesa with her owner-handler, Julie - as a Gabriel's Angels Therapy Team. She sees children of three different ages at the center, and each group enjoys a unique relationship with her. Although many of these children have never been around a dog prior to meeting Payson, her consistent visits have resulted in a trusting bond. Through activities like brushing her shiny black coat, the children have learned empathy and confidence and their uncertainty has turned into eagerness to be with Payson.
Payson's gentle manners have had an especially profound effect on Allison, a two-year old who is inclined to try and bite Payson, as well as other children. Upon arriving at her therapy visit, Payson displays a soft spot for this little girl by greeting her immediately upon entering the room. On the bi-weekly visits Julie has helped Allison to give her dog a drink of water and softly brush her coat - all while Payson stands calmly. As a result Allison’s behavior has shifted from aggressiveness to giving exuberant hugs to Payson.
This senior therapy dog’s unconditional love for the children she visits has inspired one little girl to transform an undesirable behavior into the important skills of respect and compassion for others. Payson is truly a gifted Gabriel’s Angels therapy dog!
A Therapy Dog’s Intuition by Debbie Coons
Debbie Coons shares her two noble Bloodhounds, Beauregard & Georgia, with at-risk youth through Gabriel’s Angels pet therapy program. They share visiting behaviorally challenged teenagers at SHARP school in Mesa and the infants and toddlers at Mt. Shadows Educational Center in Apache Junction. While Beau and Georgia personally greet all the little ones and teens on their visits, they always choose one to that needs some extra attention. Teachers often note how significant those choices were for a particular child that needed the additional attention on that day.
One afternoon at SHARP while Debbie was sitting with the students she noticed that Beau had moved around behind her. When she glanced back to check on him, she witnessed Beau listening intently to a particular teen, Jon, who was carrying on a private conversation with him. Jon was rubbing Beau’s belly and telling him all about the events of the day. It struck Debbie that Beau intuitively understood that this young man needed someone to listen to him.
At Mt. Shadows, Georgia creates a similar impact. A particular two-year old, Evan, is normally quiet and withdrawn. However, when Georgia appears he actually squeals with joy and runs over to give her hugs. As Georgia lingers with this boy, he whispers to her, “Georgia, I love you.”
Other popular activities at Mt. Shadows include the infants brushing the Bloodhound’s silky coats and taking turns giving them a drink of water. Mary enjoys rubbing the lint roller over Beau to “get the hair off.” It is a scene of unconditional love to observe the infants crawling over these large therapy dogs, softly patting their long ears and grinning with delight.
Recently, Beau expressed how he felt to be back at work after a two-month absence due to an injury – for the first few minutes with the teens he ‘talked’ to them as only a bloodhound can! Beau and Georgia, through their steadfastness and character, bring comfort and trust to the teens and toddlers they visit each and every week. They, along with Debbie, are true ambassadors for the impact of Gabriel’s Angels Pet Therapy program for at-risk children and youth.