Gabriel's Angels Pets Helping Kids
Thursday, April 26, 2018
Posted by: Andrea Evans
After leaving her career in the corporate
world, Gabriel’s Angels CEO and founder
Pam Gaber decided to reconnect with
Arizona by volunteering with what was
known at the time as Crisis Nursery — now
Child Crisis Arizona — a nonprofit that
provides a safe haven for children who have
been victims of abuse and neglect.
Then, in 1999 she adopted her Weimaraner
puppy Gabriel, not realizing the impact
he would have on the children she was
volunteering with. Each week, she would
tell the kids stories about Gabriel and what
he’d been up to — from his first bath to
eating his bed.
“Every Friday they’d ask, and it was ‘Gabriel
ate his bed,’ and the next Friday it was
‘Gabriel ate another bed.’ One little boy
looked at me and said, ‘Did you hit him?’
That made me realize that kids who are
victims of abuse and neglect think that’s how
you solve things,” Gaber said. “I said to him,
‘No, because in my house we don’t solve
violence by hitting.’ I realized they were
bonding through stories with Gabriel.”
The children’s interest in Gabriel gave
Gaber the idea of bringing him to the
organization’s annual Christmas party. When
the organization’s CEO didn’t say no, she
brought him dressed up in a full Rudolph
costume, and the kids immediately fell in love.
“My intention was to say, ‘Here’s Gabriel.
Here’s the dog you talked about and
see pictures of,’ and my life would be the
same,” Gaber said. “But that day those
kids were different. They weren’t angry;
they weren’t violent. They were loving and
Gabriel’s impact was felt by even the most
traumatized child, who hadn’t wanted to
join the party and was crying in his room.
Eventually he joined the event, and stopped
crying once he’d hugged Gabriel.
“I just watched a gentle soul reach children
in a way no adult could. I got Gabe in the car,
still wearing the antlers, and I looked in the
rearview mirror while we were driving home
and I said, ‘What did you just do?’ He just
stared at me, but if he could have spoken I
think he would have said, ‘Oh, silly human, I
simply do what dogs do best,’” Gaber said.
After realizing there was no organization that
provided neglected and abused children
with pet therapy, Gaber registered Gabriel
as a therapy dog, helped a few friends do
the same, and in 2000 created what is now
Nationally, Arizona ranks fifth in the rate of
children suffering from abuse and neglect,
with 25,000 children statewide who could
benefit from Gabriel’s Angels programs.
The programs, which currently serve nearly
15,000 children annually through 122 partner
agencies, provide more than just comfort to
kids. They help children develop emotional
skills such as trust, compassion and empathy
through the unconditional love of animals.
“Gabe brought out behaviors in kids
that most of us have because someone
cared enough about us to teach us those
behaviors. But if kids are in an abusive
household — even a household that’s at
risk of abuse and neglect — no one really
has the time to teach them empathy and
compassion, because it’s so high-stress,”
Gabriel’s Angels began with the traditional
group visits program and grew to include
the individual intervention program, where a
child works one-on-one with an animal and
therapist. Another Gabriel’s Angels program
is Animals, Books and Children, which allows
first- through third-grade students at Title
I schools to develop their reading skills by
reading to therapy animals.
The healthy attachment, self-regulation,
affiliation, empathy, tolerance, respect
and confidence participants develop
through the programs help kids establish
a foundation for a healthy future, breaking
the cycle of violence.
“They have to have these behaviors or they’re
going to repeat the very cycle of violence they
were victims of,” Gaber said. “I don’t want to
see the kids of the kids we’re seeing today.
We’re at it every day, hard and furious.”
Gabriel’s Angels’ extensive evaluations
show that the program works in developing
these behaviors, cultivating a love of
animals and a sense of compassion for them
and people alike.
“It was probably our sixth visit at a nonlockdown
group home in Mesa where I met
David. This 15 year old looks at me and says,
‘I want to tell you something.’ I thought ‘A
15-year-old kid wants to tell me something?
It’s not going to be good,’” Gaber said. “So,
I said, ‘What do you want to tell me?’ and he
looked at me and he goes, ‘I get it.’ I asked,
‘What do you get, David?’ and he said, ‘I’ve
abused animals before, but I’d never do it
again because I know Noah loves me and I
know he has feelings and I would never hurt
Gaber continued, "David asked why I was
crying and I told him, ‘David, this is why I
come here. You’ve developed compassion,
and not because of me, because of the
unconditional love of an animal. You get that
animals have feelings and I bet that you get
that I have feelings and other people have
feelings.’ He said, ‘Yeah, I get it.’”
Gabriel’s Angels hosts several events
throughout the year to raise awareness and
funds for the organization, with one of its
signature events being the Unleash the Love
breakfast taking place this year on April 26 at
the JW Marriott Desert Ridge.
The event, which began 14 years ago, has
grown with the organization, beginning with
140 people and now hosting more than 1,000.
At the breakfast, Gabriel’s Angels supporters
have the opportunity to meet some of the
therapy teams, interact with the dogs and
learn more about Gabriel’s Angels programs,
which provide increased well-being and
happiness for children who have been
removed from households where they were
neglected or abused.
“It’s that mission-packed hour where people
laugh, people cry. There are tissues on the
table and 50 therapy dogs there. I think it is
the best event we put on,” Gaber said.
For more information, visit www.gabrielsangels.org.