When Jen Adams of Manchester, Connecticut, says her dog Gizmo has always been in tune with people and not shy about approaching them, she supports the claim by sharing her first encounter with him.
In 2010, after her therapy dog Mr. Moxie died at age 19, Adams researched small breeds that were suited to serve in the same capacity. That led her to a woman in Rhode Island who had an 11-week-old puppy that matched Adams’ preference.
Since then, the 3.5-pound Gizmo has become a registered and certified therapy dog, with advanced American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen titles (for demonstrating specific skills in community and urban settings) to his credit. He’s put his talents to good use: as a therapy dog for the Eastern Connecticut Health Network, as the “ambassadog” on Connecticut History Day and as a Community Emergency Response Team Comfort K9, among other roles and programs.
Adams says Gizmo’s size works to his advantage.
“When I’m working with canine first responders, a lot of the dogs are giant breeds, like a St. Bernard,” she said. “We always say that people can lay on those dogs, but Gizmo can lay on people. He’s very portable; he can be held and sit in people’s laps. He can snuggle up with someone in a bed. He’s not intimidating, so a lot of times people will say, ‘I really don’t like dogs, but I don’t mind Gizmo.’ Gizmo doesn’t shed, so that’s another bonus. He’s not imposing, but he has a big presence.”
Gizmo has traveled great distances to provide comfort, visiting Wisconsin, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Vermont, but his home turf is the New England region.
Leighann Kalivas of New Milford, Connecticut, learned about Gizmo in 2013 from the activity coordinator at the Torrington Health & Rehabilitation Center, where Kalivas was a resident for more than two months as she recovered from brain surgery.
“There was a knock on my room door, and in came Jen with this tiny, precious, sweet boy Gizmo, who just snuggled right up to me ever so gently,” said Kalivas. “We became friends really quick… Gizmo gave me a sense of peace in that initial visit, a bit of joy, a lot of love and made me feel ‘better’ about being where I was. It was very special.”
Gizmo’s itinerary in December will take him around Connecticut. He’s been invited to a school board meeting at an elementary school in Suffield, during which the children’s book “Gizmo’s Pawesome Guide to Mental Health” will be presented to the board of education. On the same day, he will stop by Manchester Memorial Hospital to visit with a man and his son; years ago, they had their first meeting with Gizmo. There’s also an invite for him to attend a free film screening and panel discussion co-presented by the Windsor Youth Services Bureau and Windsor Public Schools about the effect of adverse childhood experiences on adulthood.
“I enjoy this work so much,” says Adams, who schedules Gizmo’s community activities around her responsibilities as a school teacher. “It fills my heart when other people’s hearts are filled.”