Image by/from Feralpearl
Angel (born March 9, 2009) is a one-eyed, three legged therapy dog and the Official Therapy Dog of Houston, Texas. The female Golden Retriever works at Houston Methodist Hospital, Memorial Hermann Hospital (Children’s and Southwest facilities), Sheltering Arms Assisted Care and Hampton Assisted Care. She also works with University of Houston students and is an active member of Faithful Paws, an organization sponsored by Bellaire United Methodist Church with human-pet teams that visit 120 facilities in and around Houston. Angel is the animal companion of artist Trish Herrera of the band Mydolls.
Angel was born an only puppy, a rarity in Golden Retrievers, at the kennel of breeder Barbara Shapley. Because she was missing an eye and a leg, the veterinarian recommended she be euthanized. However, Shapley did not have the heart to follow the advice and decided to find a home for her instead. As a member of the Golden Retriever rescue community, she thought Trish Herrera would be the ideal adopter.
Herrera had a long history of working with the breed. In 2002, she founded Golden Retriever Rescue of Houston. She had fostered more than 25 dogs, including an orthopedically-challenged Golden, Rosie, which she adopted. Herrera had also served as an adoption coordinator and set up a fund to assist adopters with special needs dogs. Despite some misgivings, Herrera adopted Angel.
When Rosie died in 2010, Herrera began working with Angel intensively to train her as a therapy dog. To date, Angel has received five titles: American Kennel Club (AKC) Puppy, AKC Canine Good Citizen, AKC Therapy Dog, AKC Therapy Dog Advanced and Faithful Paws Therapy Dog. According to a Dogster feature story on Angel, she is halfway through the 400 hours needed to achieve AKC Therapy Dog Distinguished, the club’s highest therapy dog title.
Animal-assisted therapy is designed to improve a patient’s social, emotional, or cognitive functioning. Pet-animal teams, such as Herrera and Angel’s, improve morale for people undergoing intense medical treatments, by minimizing depression, anxiety, and chronic pain.
Angel typically makes three visits per week to hospitals or assisted care homes, or more than 100 visits annually. Depending on the facility, she may spend time in the waiting rooms or the ICU or see patients coming out of anesthesia. Angel also visits the oncology locked ward sections of children’s hospitals and sometimes the hospice units. On most hospital trips, Angel and her human partner go to specific wards, asking the nurses if anyone would like a visit. Sometimes, they knock on patients’ doors.
They also respond to special requests made from patients through volunteer services.
Angel may be called upon to simply put her paws on the patients’ beds, which allows them to pet her more easily. Some individuals want the therapy dog to get into bed beside them. This can be tricky for people with stitched or bruised wounds and patients hooked up to IVs and monitors. Other times, only the patient’s family interacts with the dog because the patient is incapable.
Visits range from five to 30 minutes depending on how deeply the patient connects with the dog. In a days’ time, Angel might meet up to 20 people, depending on how many dogs are working and how many people are requesting visits to their rooms. Angel always has patients who ask for her specifically. She also has regulars.
Herrera and Angel are required to undergo training in each individual hospital to understand the various signs on the patients’ doors, so they do not bother someone in isolation, or sleeping, or visiting with the doctor.
Herrera says Angel’s cheerful three-legged, one-eyed presence is a special inspiration to patients suffering from conditions that seem impossible to conquer.
In her free time, Angel likes to swim, retrieve rubber chickens and wear a sock on her head.
In 2015, Angel was honored during a ceremony at Houston’s City Hall. David W. Robinson, Houston City Council at Large Position 2, and Houston Mayor Annise Parker officially proclaimed July 21 as “Angel, the Therapy Dog Day.” As Houston’s Official Therapy Dog, Angel represents all of the city’s therapy pets.
Angel’s story is told in the book Tales of a Therapy Dog, which was written by Herrera and illustrated by Gary Yokie. The book is available to purchase online at Amazon and The Book Patch. A plush toy version of Angel and a miniaturized copy of her official proclamation is available for purchase on Angel’s official website, Angelhap.com. The toy is believed to be the first mass-produced stuffed doll to be modeled after a “disabled” animal. The first batch of cloth Angels was produced in October 2015. After manufacturing costs are covered by sales of the toy, Herrera distributes the remaining dogs free of charge to children she and Angel meet on hospital rounds.