Tiny Dog, Awesome Power

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SNP photo by Jeffry Konczal - Worthington-area resident Paulette Gustafson, who took advantage of a therapy dog while recovering from cancer, has trained her own therapy dog, Gabriel, to help others in the community.

Worthington, OH – While mulching leaves in March 2008, Paulette Gustafson had a painful twist in her abdomen that was later diagnosed as ovarian cancer. “I had to have emergency surgery on a tumor and was in the hospital for 12 days,” she said. After Gustafson was release she was able to go home with 40 stitches in her stomach.

Not long after the surgery, the Doctor told Gustafson she would need to begin Chemotherapy treatments to make sure the tumor was gone completely.  “I was scared to death during the treatments,” she said. “I lost my hair, my eyebrows and was in a lot of pain. I felt like someone hit me in the knees with a two-by-four. I felt worse with every treatment.

One day a little therapy dog came into her treatment room. “He was a black-and-white Shih Tzu and his name was Ralph,” she said. “My father’s name was Ralph. You know, when you are ill, you hold onto every little thing, and it seemed important that his name was Ralph. I’d never heard of therapy dogs, but this dog really made me feel better.

“I made a promise to God that if I lived, I would adopt a dog and train him to be a therapy dog,” she said. After Gustafson got better she adopted Gabriel, a back-and-white Shih Tzu, from the Ohio Fuzzy Pawz Rescue in October of 2009. And soon after went through the training to get Gabriel certified as a therapy dog. “We signed his papers in July,” she said. “I hope Gabriel can give joy to people who are ill, to autistic children or children who have attention disorders, or to residents in a nursing home, or anyone who needs a little help.

“He’s a little seven-pound bundle of joy,” she said. “He gets so much attention and smiles. One of our last visits was at a Goodwill center in Columbus. We stopped to talk to a little Down syndrome girl who was sitting there singing that song Tomorrow from Annie. “She put her arms around Gabriel and said ‘I love him — he’s an angel,’ ” Gustafson said.  “I told her, ‘Yes, his name is Gabriel.’ ”

Gustafson has a degree in counseling and life coaching. “I know what it is like to sit in a chemotherapy chair for two years,” she said. “I’m open to anyone who wants Gabriel to put a smile on someone’s face,” she said.

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