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, 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 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. But, 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.
Therapy dog training
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.
Life as a working dog
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.
Official Therapy Dog of Houston Proclamation
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.
Tales of a Therapy Dog
Angel’s story will be told in an upcoming children’s book being written by Herrera. A plush version of Angel and a miniaturized copy of her official proclamation will accompany the book. 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 have been covered by sales of the toy, Herrera will distribute the remaining dogs free of charge to children she and Angel meet on hospital rounds.
Our Favorite Dogster Heroes of 2015
This Dogster Hero was born with just three legs and one eye, but that hasn’t stopped her from becoming the official therapy dog of Houston, Texas. Angel the Golden Retriever proves that puppies born with differences don’t need to be euthanized, they just need to find the right human to help them reach their potential.
- Anne Forline, Born Missing an Eye and a Leg, Angel Has Love to Spare as a Therapy Dog, Dogster, October 21, 2015http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/born-missing-an-eye-and-a-leg-angel-has-love-to-spare-as-a-therapy-dog
- Wavelength Salon, Trish Herrera’s website http://www.wavelengthsalon.com/love.html
- Houston’s Official Therapy Dog, Angel, Memorial Hermann Hospital, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6kr4hKO7Ik
- Rebecca Burwell, Congratulations, Angel!, Houston Pet Talk, July 1, 2015 http://www.houstonpettalk.com/headline/congratulations-angel
- Glenn Willey, A Furry Visitor to Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital Is Recognized By the City of Houston, Memorial Hermann Hospital Corporate Communications, July 22, 2015 http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/a-furry-visitor-to-memorial-hermann-southwest-hospital-is-recognized-by-the-city-of-houston-300116906.html
- Jordan Magaziner Steinfeld, Angel the Therapy Dog, The Buzz Magazine, July 23, 2015 http://thebuzzmagazines.com/articles/2015/07/angel-therapy-dog#sthash.fQoDUlYf.dpufhttp://thebuzzmagazines.com/articles/2015/07/angel-therapy-dog
- Dog Therapy Helps Patients at Hospital, ABC 13, Eyewitness News, August 1, 2015 http://abc13.com/pets/dog-therapy-helps-patients-at-hospital/900925
- Alton Parrish, Stuffed Toy to be Modeled after “Disabled” Dog, Ideas, Inventions and Innovations, October 23, 2015 http://www.ineffableisland.com/2015/10/stuffed-toy-to-be-modeled-after.html
- Faithful Paws, Animal Assisted Therapy Program Rules for Conducting a Pet Therapy Visit http://www.faithfulpawshouston.com/id17.html
- Angel, Therapy Dog of Houston Facebook pagehttps://www.facebook.com/AngelOfficialTherapyDogHouston/photos/pb.1431232497200260.-2207520000.1445788734./1436645539992289/?type=3&theater
- One-Eyed Three-Legged Golden Retriever Therapy Dog Receives Award From Houston Mayor, New Dog World, July 23, 2015 http://www.newdogworld.com/one-eyed-three-legged-golden-retriever-therapy-dog-receives-award-from-houston-mayor/#.VikNen6rTRY
- Dogster hero of 2015 http://www.dogster.com/lifestyle/our-favorite-dogster-heroes-of-2015
Angel’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/AngelOfficialTherapyDogHouston
Houston’s Official Therapy Dog, Angel, Memorial Hermann Hospital video of Angel at work https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6kr4hKO7Ik