The Canine Companions at Gabriel’s Angels Bring Healing and Hope to Children
If there is any doubt to the idea that sometimes a dog can make all the difference between a good day or bad, you’ve never met one of Gabriel’s Angels.
Dedicated to delivering healing pet therapy to at-risk children, the organization is named after its canine founder, a Weimaraner, whose owner was inspired by his positive impact on the children at Crisis Nursery, where he appeared at a holiday party in 2000. Gabriel then spent the next ten years visiting over 5,000 abused, neglected and other children in crisis. Though Gabriel passed away in 2010, his spirit lives on in the 185 Pet Therapy Teams that serve nearly 14,000 at-risk children each year.
“We deal with kids who have experienced neglect, abuse, poverty, live in high-crime areas, and kids that have a high-propensity for violence and abuse in their lives,” explains Chief Development Officer Michelle Shipitofsky.
“We were founded early on through Pam’s (Gabriel’s owner, Pam Gaber) interactions at Crisis Nursery, so it really was kids who were being taken from their homes because of abuse and neglect. Over the years, it’s expanded to the broader term of ‘at-risk,’ because when we started there were just 7,500 kids in the state foster system, yet today there are over 19,000.”
Shiptofsky likes to highlight one story in particular when it comes to those early interactions of Gabriel and Pam with the kids. It involves a tough-as-nails four-year-old girl, who, near the end of a group visit, wanted to know when Pam and Gabriel would be coming back. Pam then assured her that they would return the next week.
“Yeah right,” the girl exclaimed, and according to the program director, she spent the next week telling all of the other kids that there was no way they would be back, so not to bother getting their hopes up.
Needless to say, Pam and Gabriel did return the next week, and, like clockwork, many weeks after that—each time the little girl was blown away. After being abandoned by both her parents, who were substance abusers, by the age of four, all she had known was disappointment and abandonment.
“But Pam came back, every single time, and every single time that little girl would take the lead in that classroom, and she would talk to Gabe, and she would walk Gabe. Gabe even got an invitation to her preschool graduation,” says Shipitofsky.
“We see it all the time- there is always that one kid who doesn’t want to take part in the group, and the dog goes and finds them, stays by them, and leans on them until slowly, but surely, they start to pet them and the walls that are up just start breaking down.”
For those who think their dog might make a good candidate to become one of Gabriel’s Angels, each month the organization hosts a free one-hour information session, where they explain the different kinds of therapy animals that are needed as well as some of the training that is required. Gabriel’s Angels is also always on the lookout for some “Helping Hands,” a group of non-pet volunteers who receive the same training as a volunteer with a pet, and offer support out in the field to both the therapy teams and the kids they serve.
For more information on Gabriel’s Angels, please visit GabrielsAngels.org.