Therapy dog Gabriel's story lives on in book
By Travis Roemhild
Ahwatukee Foothills News
Ahwatukee Foothills resident Pam Gaber held off putting down into words her experiences with her therapy dog, Gabriel. She wanted the story to play itself out first and, even though she knew how it was going to end, she wanted time to reflect on the incredible story of the dog who she said "inspired a revolution."
Gabriel, the Weimaraner who visited with more than 10,000 at-risk, abused and neglected kids throughout his career as a therapy dog, passed away due to cancer in May 2010. Gaber started her book about the organization, Gabriel's Angels, shortly after.
"When we were in the middle of it with Gabriel, people were telling me to write a book but I wanted to wait," Gaber said. "I knew the beginning and the end - where he passed - and the middle was joyful. He touched a lot of people."
Gabriel's Angels now serves 13,000 children throughout Arizona. There are 150 therapy dog teams that work with more than 100 agencies in Arizona.
The beginning starts with Gaber's work as a volunteer for the Crisis Nursery in 1998. She had just left her corporate career of 15 years and wanted to do something to give back to the community. It was around that same time she took Gabriel home for the first time.
The puppy became a hot topic around the Crisis Nursery when Gaber would volunteer. The kids would look for updates, all the crazy puppy stories she had, every time she visited.
"They were bonding with an animal they never met," Gaber said.
It turned out that he was even more effective when he actually showed up.
On his first visit, Gabriel was dressed as Rudolph for a Christmas party and created an instant connection with the children. It was the start of an 11-year-long career.
"We were watching in awe of what was happening between Gabriel and the kids," Gaber said. "If he was a typical puppy and not as soulful and loving, this story may have never taken place."
From that first visit, Gabriel went on to meet kids in group homes, domestic violence and homeless shelters and Gabriel's Angels, the organization, was founded.
Gabriel visited with kids who had been in prison and had a history of violence but that didn't stop him from interacting with them. In fact, Gaber said, he had a sense as to which one in the group needed his attention the most.
"He would look at a group of kids and just know who was hurting and needed him the most," she explained. "We've learned that animals teach compassion and trust to these neglected and abused children. Some aren't ready to trust adults yet so an animal is like a stepping stone in the process to get their lives back on track."
When Gabriel or any of the other therapy dogs would visit, the kids wouldn't leave their side. They would do things like use a stethoscope to listen to the dog's heartbeat, letting them know that it is a living thing, which Gaber said deepened the connection between dog and child.
"Some of these kids lack empathy and we know that with victims of violence, they may start out by abusing animals," she said. "The cycle of violence is never ending unless someone steps in and teaches new behaviors. Otherwise these kids will end up in jail."
No one was immune to Gabriel's charm.
"He never met a kid he couldn't crack," Gaber said. "Even the tough guys who have been to jail. They turned into a big mush ball around Gabriel."
When he passed away in May 2010, it was the end of an era. His story will live on in Gaber's book, released in May of this year.
Gaber will be signing books at Changing Hands Bookstore, 6428 S. McClintock Drive in Tempe, on July 14 from 7 to 9 p.m. The book is also available for purchase on Amazon.com. To read more, visit her website, www.GabrielsAngels.org.
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