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Helping 15,000 kids – one dog at a time

Mr. Finley the poodle is just one of the volunteers who are making a difference for kids

Mr. Finley is a gentleman, a refined soul who loves his routines and the companionship of others. He also loves his stuffed toys, which he gathers around him when he naps.

Mr. Finley is a miniature poodle.

This isn’t any ordinary dog. The seven-year-old pup, along with his owner Linda Tingstrom, brings joy to at-risk youth in Phoenix, Arizona, on a weekly basis. Linda and Mr. Finley are a certified therapy team for Gabriel’s Angels, a nonprofit agency in Arizona that serves 15,200 at-risk children. It is the only organization in the state offering behaviorally focused pet therapy.

The therapy teams, each comprising a dog, its owner and a helper, are 100 percent volunteer.

Linda has been giving her time to Gabriel’s Angels since 2003, just three years after Pam Gaber launched the nonprofit with her weimaraner Gabriel.

“I was going through a tough time in my life,” Linda explains. “I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to give back.’”

Linda and Mr. Finley meet with children at an elementary school once a week and at a shelter every other week.

Visits to schools include one-on-one time for each child to interact with the dog. Kids can brush the pup, give treats, walk the dog on a leash, even listen to the animal’s heartbeat with a stethoscope.

Linda has seen kids with aggression find calm. She’s witnessed once-shy children emerge from their shells. And she’s experienced kids previously terrified of dogs bond with them.

“I don’t need any thanks because I get more out of this than anyone,” she says. “I feel like I’m making a difference and that’s all that matters to me.”

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