Gabriel’s Angels

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Gabriel’s Angels brings pet therapy to abused, neglected and at-risk children throughout Arizona. The organization, with offices in Phoenix and Tucson, was named after Gabriel, the first dog to be used in therapy. The Angels are the kids receiving the help. Gabriel’s Angels has nearly 150 Therapy Teams delivering pet therapy to over 100 agencies. Gabriel’s Angels founder and CEO Pam Gaber will tell us more.

Ted Simons: We look at Gabriel's Angels, a nonprofit that uses pet therapy to help abused and neglected children. The organization is named after Gabriel, the group's original therapy dog and the angels are the kids receiving help. Here now is Pam Gaber, founder and CEO of Gabriel's Angels. I've been looking forward to this

Pam Gaber: me, too.

Ted Simons: Kids and dogs, nary a discouraging word. How did this program develop?

Pam Gaber: I always say it started on accident but continues on purpose. I was volunteering at the crisis nursery in Phoenix. And I was telling the children occasionally about my new puppy, Gabriel, and right when Gabriel turned a year old I brought him to their Christmas party dress as Rudolph. The only reason I brought him, I wanted the children to meet this dog they knew so much about, and that day they were different. Instead of being angry and violent, they were loving and kind and would hug Gabriel, and we all watched in amazement as this animal reached children like no adult could.

Ted Simons: And we see a couple of shots there. Gabriel is chasing butterflies in a different world now probably.

Pam Gaber: He is, he is.

Ted Simons: But, this is such -- talk about the kids now that you are dealing with this. These are special kids themselves.

Pam Gaber: Yeah, we do a with abused and neglect and at-risk youth here in Arizona. The children we visit are somewhat desensitized, and they are not attached to their mom or to their dad. So, they need to form an attachment so they can then learn empathy and compassion, affiliation, tolerance, and core behaviors that help children exit the cycle violence. And really, the dogs become the teachers those core behaviors because once the therapy dog keeps coming back, and keeps coming back, kids go, you know, maybe trust doesn't always lead to disappointment. Gabriel came back.

Ted Simons: It's the unconditional love they were not getting.

Pam Gaber: No matter what day the child had, that therapy dog will go in and say, you are a great kid, and you are a great kid, and by the way, you are a great kid.

Ted Simons: How do teach them to have responsibility, tolerance, and we have empathy and trust, these a lot of things for, for a kid who has been around the block few times, more times than they should have been. And how do you work this?

Amy Hillman: We know that they lack these behaviors, so our program is designed around activities that bring the children in closer contact with the therapy dog, so, all the activities are age appropriate. And as the children will brush the therapy dog. They will listen to the dog's heartbeat, and you know, then they will listen to their own heartbeat, and go animals have feelings, too. I can trust this creature that keeps coming back. Believe it or not, they will brush teeth. And that's a beautiful empathy building exercise. Older children do basic obedience skills but we need to begin that trusting relationship because once trust happens, and children develop empathy. And they will fill the need of the therapy dog, where before they might not fill the need because they lacked empathy.

Ted Simons: And we are seeing in that, that this bulldog up there, is just a star.

Pam Gaber: Bubba.

Ted Simons: They put a stethoscope, and he was going yeah.

Pam Gaber: You know, it's amazing, it's that connection between children and animals, really, that goes the magic of Gabriel's Angels.

Ted Simons: Let's talk about results. are you seeing results, what kind results, how quickly?

Pam Gaber: I am a little analytical, believe it or not so for the past seven years we've been doing formal program evaluations, and taking those core behaviors that we spoke about, and go direct to the care-takers and say, do you see changes in the children in any of the core behaviors? They rate it on the scale, and I have seven to eight years of data now that shows us that trust and attachment is the primary skill that children learn with the therapy dog, and without trust and attachment, these children are not going to make it. From that, we then go oh, now they are showing some empathy.

Ted Simons: How quickly are you seeing these results?

Pam Gaber: Happens over time, to be candid. When children are desensitized, it can take time. We have recently launched through the help of the Virginia piper trust a one-on-one intervention program. We always have worked with groups of children. And we're now working with the most severely abused and neglected with the councilor, with the therapy dog and the owner, and the dog becomes written into the treatment program. So, it's ground-breaking.

Ted Simons: And I don't know how best to ask this, but, when you got this dog, it's absolutely unconditional love, and just absolutely fantastic for these kids. Yet, this is not the real world. How do emphasize to the kids, yes, you are getting unconditional love from the dogs, but, you don't want to set them up for future disappointment.

Pam Gaber: And you might be eluding to the fact that when in that child leaves, Gabriel won't be there. Or Gabriel won't be coming there forever. So those kids deal with loss, as well, but it's also part of life that, that children will -- things will come into their life that's really great, and things really great will leave their life, but it's done in a way with caring and compassion, and certainly, as these children go back into their environment, you know, we hope that it's a better environment than the one they were pulled from or they would not be going back, and now they know what empathy and come bags is because it's a paradigm shift, and if all they know is anger and violence, that's how I will react but if I know compassion and empathy, I can choose that, and we're giving these kids a chance to make that choice, where all they know is to defend themselves with behaviors that don't work well in the real world.

Ted Simons: What age groups do you think work best?

Pam Gaber: From infant up to age 18, I'm a big fan of teenage boys. These kids are going to be out sooner rather than later, and at that point, it becomes a relationship with the handler of the therapy dog, as well as the dog, itself. We work with all age groups, and you know, when you could see a hardened teenage girl from Florence break down the wall and to learn trust and look forward to something, that's going to happen with the therapy dog, it's amazing.

Ted Simons: And where do you find these dogs? Do they need, to they have special training?

Pam Gaber: Real special. They liver at home with their owners. And so, your service dog is a dog that would be a guide dog, the dog that's at home, sleeping on the bed right a great pet and therapy dogs are somewhere in the middle. These volunteer therapy teams, and they work with their animal, and they become registered through therapy dog, inc.

Ted Simons: Is there a possibility, we talked about the fact that, you know, get to the real world, it's not the same as the unconditional love, what happens if the kid connects so much they want to keep the pet?

Pam Gaber: The doggie has to go home. And that's another life lesson for the children. They will cry when you leave because they think that you are never coming back, but you go back the next week, and they might cry when you leave that week, but the third, fourth, and fifth week, they don't need to cry because they knew Gabriel was coming back.

Ted Simons: We have about 30 seconds left, when you started this, and you had an idea, and a vision for this, is what's happening now, what thought would happen?

Pam Gaber: I had no idea that we would be serving, abused and neglected and at-risk youth a year. I always say this, in my best day, which child abuse ends I will close my doors.

Ted Simons: Yes.

Pam Gaber: I had no idea of the need. We're Arizona and statewide now, and that's our dream is let's help the kids.

Ted Simons: Thank you are doing fantastic work and thank you very much for everything that do. And thank you for joining us.

Pam Gaber:Founder and CEO, Gabriel's Angels;

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