Gabriel and Pam
There are so many times I've read the news and hear horrible stories of child abuse. One organization is working to help children overcome this nightmare. It's called Gabriel's Angels. Pam Gaber is the president and founder of this extraordinary organization, so please join your hands together and welcome her to Too Kool Doggies.
Q: How did Gabriel's Angels first begin?
A: After working several years in corporate America and relocating to Arizona, I wanted to get into volunteering as a way to give back to society. I started volunteering at the Safe Haven Crisis Center in Phoenix. During that time, I adopted Gabriel as a puppy. In working with these children, I would always tell them about Gabriel and what happened in our adventures every day. They were really interested in what I had to say and always asked about Gabriel every time I came to see them.
I asked the program advisors if I could bring Gabriel to the Christmas party and they allowed it. What I found is that these children transformed in his presence. Usually, children of abuse are angry but Gabriel brought out the kinder, gentler and happier side hidden inside.
I looked into seeing if there were any therapy dogs used to help abused children and there was no model for this type of therapy out there. On May 12, 2000, Gabriel's Angels came to be by being incorporated as a non-profit organization.
Q: When you first got Gabriel did you plan on making him a therapy dog or was it a natural progression for him?
A: He had always had a calm nature so I knew he would be a good match for this type of work. When he was a year old, he took classes to become a therapy dog. After he completed basic obedience training, part of what he had to learn to be a therapy dog was to be desensitized to certain sounds. An example of this would be going to the local PetSmart and stand by the electric door and watch what happened. This would be at least 30 times till he got used to it and didn't react. After being certified as a therapy dog, he started coming to the crisis center.
Q: When Gabriel first started doing this did his personality change?
A: Oh yes. When he's at home, he's just like a regular dog. Yet, when I put that vest on him, he becomes more calm and has the demeanor of a dog who has a job to do. Gabriel has such a keen sense for this, whenever he enters a room, he will go to the child who is most upset and sit with that child to comfort them for as long as they need it. It's amazing, but he just seems to know.
Q: How long does it take a dog to become a therapy dog? How does a person go about doing it?
A: It really depends on the dog. For one thing, they must be a year old. If they are very mature and have completed their basic obedience, they can be certified as a therapy dog in as little as two months. The training they do is intensive so for other dogs who have completed basic, it may take as long as four months. We have the same dog and owner team visit the children 1-2 times a week. Dogs can be trained through the Delta Society or Therapy Dog Inc.
Q: What effects have you seen in children who have interacted with these therapy dogs?
A: We have our program monitored by behavior specialists using a pre-evaluation and post-evaluation process. There have been different types of outcomes. The short-term outcome is the child will have a great day. The mid-term outcome which usually affects children from infants to age 5 or 6 is they have the ability to form empathy, compassion and trust. These characteristics are learned behavior and they are not developed, most children who are abused will never experience it. The long-term outcome of therapy dogs with abused children is that as teenagers, they know that abusing a dog is wrong and will never do it to a dog again. Many had done it in the past because they were around fighting dogs or had parents who abused the dog as well as the kid. Because of being in this program, they know the difference and respond to a dog with empathy and compassion.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about working with at-risk children?
A: I get to see the special connection with children and animals firsthand. These dogs bring hope, light and love to their lives.
Q: What does your organization hope to achieve for the future? Do you plan to expand?
A: We are currently working in the cities of Phoenix and Tuscon. There are many steps an organization must take to expand. We are 100% philanthropic and are extremely dependent on our volunteers. We hope to branch out into other cities in Arizona at this time.
Q: What are ways that people can help?
A: Volunteering is one way. Gabriel has inspired people to do volunteering in a difficult environment because it is an activity they can do with their dogs. We are lucky to get our volunteers through the media, networking events and word of mouth. Our volunteers are the backbone of our organization and we have two full-time volunteer coordinators in Phoenix and one part-time one working out of Tuscon.
Donations are also a great way to help our organization. We have a special donation page on or website.
Q: What is the most valuable lesson working with therapy dogs has taught you?
A: Never underestimate the power of a therapy dog! They know what they are doing. Four years ago, when Gabriel was fighting cancer, the children were always asking when would he be coming? There is such a strong bond that develops with these dogs and the children they nurture.
Q: What lies ahead for Gabriel?
A: Although Gabriel is being treated for cancer, he comes in to work just as he did in the past. Now that he's almost eleven-years-old, it amazes me that he's become more intuitive with age. Someday, he will retire but as long as he loves it, he's going to keep doing it.
Thank you Pam for taking the time to share your story with me and my readers.
If you would like to connect with Gabriel's Angels in the social media arena or through their website, you may want to check out these links: