When Ahwatukee Foothills resident Pam Gaber adopted her dog, Gabriel, in 1999 she thought she was getting a companion for herself, but over Gabriel’s 11 years of life he has helped more than 10,000 abused children discover compassion and love.
Gaber was a volunteer at Phoenix Crisis Nursery when Gabriel was a puppy, and the children she worked with at the nursery loved hearing stories about her big gray dog.
“I brought Gabriel dressed as a reindeer to a Christmas party at the nursery, and I noticed that with the presence of this gentle gray dog the children were kind and loving, which is not how victims of abuse usually act,” Gaber said. “He brought out a soft, loving side of the kids.”
After leaving the Christmas party, Gaber realized that she had the ability to help children in need, and the organization Gabriel’s Angels was born.
“Victims of abuse and neglect lack compassion and empathy, but once the children learn to trust the animal they learn compassion,” Gaber said.
According to Gaber, because the abused children have suffered at the hands of humans, dogs are able to help children in a way even well-meaning humans cannot.
“Human beings represent everything evil to these kids because they have been neglected or abused by humans,” she said. “They look at me and don’t trust me, but they look at Gabriel or another dog and there is a special connection.”
The therapy dogs and their owners who work with Gabriel’s Angels are registered with Delta Society or Therapy Dogs Inc., both of which properly train dogs to deal with children.
“The two organizations register, evaluate and test the dogs with the owners to make sure they are predictable and have a good temperament,” Gaber said. “Once they are registered, they have $1 million of liability insurance whenever they visit children.”
Gabriel retired in January because he is fighting a recurring cancerous tumor.
“He has inspired people to volunteer with their dogs in an arena they would have never set foot in,” Gaber said. “Even though child abuse is so difficult to be around, people can help when they see the power of their animal healing these kids.”
Hundreds of Valley residents have volunteered with Gabriel’s Angels, and according to Gaber the popularity of the organization has grown through word of mouth and media coverage.
“Our volunteers have had the beautiful experience of watching their dog help children who have shut down their emotions because they have been so traumatized,” she said.
Leslie Sonnenklar, who sits on the board of Gabriel’s Angels, said she is fascinated by the effect dogs have on children.
“Seeing a kid smile, pet the dog, listen to the dog’s heart and understand that it’s a living being is amazing,” Sonnenklar said.
Gabriel’s Angels is sponsoring a Doggie Beach Party this Saturday, Feb. 27, in Scottsdale at the Franciscan Renewal Center. The beach party will feature more than 30 vendors and have contests for dogs and activities for children.
“It’s a really fun event that helps raise money for Gabriel’s Angels,” Gaber said.
Admission to the event is $20 for adults and $10 for children. The party will begin at 10 a.m. on the east lawn of the Franciscan Renewal Center, 5802 E. Lincoln Drive. People are welcome to attend with or without their canine companions.
For more information on Gabriel’s Angels, visit www.gabrielsangels.org or call (602) 266-0875.