A personal glimpse into the Life ofPam GaberFounder/CEO, Gabriel’s Angels
I knew it was over and time to move on in my life. I felt empty, done, and spent. I was running the animal health division for a pharmaceutical company. I was on the road all the time, living in hotels and keeping weird hours because of changing time zones. The job had consumed me. I had no life, no friends, and no sense of community. Honestly, I had crashed through the glass ceiling of corporate America and all I got was a headache for my efforts. I wanted more, lots more, something in my life that gave me a purpose. So, after some intense soul-searching for the courage to go forward, I decided to leave my six-figure corporate job, where I was making more money than I could ever see myself spending, and venture into the “unknown.”
So I left. There was a little voice, a visceral flip-flop, which guided me forward into my new life, my new choices. It was a bit frightening and yet I was extremely energized with my decision. One of the first choices I made was to get a puppy. Now that I wasn’t a corporate traveler, I would be home and present and I could love and provide the care my new addition would need. My Mom had always insisted we have pets in our lives growing up. I was always dragging animals home as a kid. That was partly because I had better relationships with animals than I did with people. When my Mom said I was wrong, my animals always said I was right.
I was now ready for what was to become my “puppy-looking” day. Now, if you have ever looked for a puppy before, you know there is no such thing as a puppy “looking”—they are just so darned cute. You know that on that day, you will be coming home with a puppy! Your gut will know “That Special One.”
On January 1, 1999, I found my “soul dog.” He was an unending mass of soft gray fur, velvet ears that almost touched the ground, and the sweetest puppy breath. Heaven! At eight weeks old, he was the only Weimaraner resting quietly in the corner, a male amidst five female “puppies on speed!” The synergy was immediate. I knew. I just knew. I recognized the flutters in my belly. This was love. I brought him home and named him Gabriel.
In addition to animals, I have always loved little people because someday, they will be us! I had begun volunteering at the Crisis Nursery, a non-profit agency that serves children from domestic violence homes. I believed my nurturing presence consistently would make a difference to these “throw-away kids,” hopefully breaking the cycle of violence in their lives.
We always remember those moments that changed our lives forever, those moments that when we spoke them out loud, we already owned them. For me, it was Christmas, and Gabriel was almost one year old. I had an idea to bring Gabriel dressed up like Rudolph to meet the kids at their Crisis Nursery Christmas party. What I thought was such an innocent and simple idea delivered a profound result.
The children bonded with Gabriel. These children don’t bond. They can’t afford the risk, the disappointment, the betrayal. In their world of survival, these children have had to learn detachment for protection. Bonding with Gabriel changed all that.
As a result, the children’s behavior changed. Instead of acting out with anger and violence, the children were calm, loving, and demonstrative with their affection. Gabriel’s ears (ah, those velvet ears!) soothed cheeks and chins, his soft belly became the perfect place to nuzzle, and nothing ever felt better than a kiss from Gabriel!
Known as the Season of Miracles, bringing Gabriel to this Christmas party changed lives in unexpected ways, and everyone on staff knew it. “What did I do?” I asked myself.”
Everything had changed. My body was at attention now as a brave soldier. My eyes were open wide, taking in the messages that were firing in my brain. After visiting with the children, I sat in my car in the Crisis Nursery parking lot that Christmas day, talking slowly and quietly out loud to Gabriel, who was looking right back at me in the rearview mirror. He was sitting perfectly upright and was very aware of what I was saying in this conversation. We both knew something changed forever in us that day. Something happened. The kids were different. Their innocent sweetness and trust showed up. I said to Gabriel, “We can do something … or nothing.” I, or should I say we, chose to do something.
First, I did some research in the community. Surely, some agencies brought that animal to kids. Someone had to be using therapy dogs—didn’t they? There were none. There was nothing like this. I knew what had to be done—by me, and Gabriel!
I defined my vision for Gabriel’s Angels and who we would serve: I determined that we would serve “every child in Arizona who needs us.” So far we’ve reached more than 100,000 children over the past twelve years. Our activities come from a behavior-based model. All of our therapy pets live with their owner. I keep a laser focus on Gabriel’s Angels and our mission. It’s not easy to say no to hospitals, hospices, and the elderly when you know that there is a great need there as well. But we need to make sure we keep our focus and not what I call “mission creep.” My years as a businesswoman have taught me we can’t be all things to all people.
I chose to serve children of domestic violence via pet therapy for abused, at-risk, and neglected youth. I could see the bigger picture. I believe that children can exit the cycle of violence and that their trusting connection to our animals breaks the mold of living that they are used to. Now they can choose to behave differently. We know their initial behaviors aren’t right, but these behaviors are what have kept these kids alive. I believe we can reshape them, show them there’s another way.”
Today, Gabriel’s Angels are celebrating our thirteenth year; we have 172 volunteer therapy teams in the state of Arizona and twelve employees. Nonprofits supply lots of jobs—usually with people who have a passion for their work! I have been asked if we “pay” our staff and I never defend the “people cost.” Why wouldn’t we pay our staff? They are the ones who make it all happen!
In 2010 Gabriel died of lung cancer. Then my mother died of cervical cancer. They both died within two months of each other. I had been determined to save them both. I went to every doctor’s appointment and every chemo treatment. I suffered from what is known as “chemo fatigue” knowing huge pieces of my life were dying. So I honored the two years it took for me to heal from this compounded and devastating loss.
I knew when I fell in love with Gabriel that I entered into a contract. He taught me compassion, which was missing in my corporate life. I can relate to people now. I feel a part of humanity. I spend my life looking to the future now instead of being stuck in the past. Gabriel’s Angels started by accident, but today it runs on purpose!