Connecticut’s cherished therapy dog, Gizmo, is retiring. He’s leaving big paws to fill

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Gizmo, Connecticut’s school therapy dog — made famous by a children’s guidebook on mental health — is retiring after 12 years of helping kids across the state and nationally process their emotions.

“I think a lot of it is his demeanor and his little cute face,” said Jen Adams, Gizmo’s handler. “He’s very calm; he’ll sit in a child’s lap for as long as needed without moving. Like he knows he’s supposed to be there and what he’s doing.”

Adams said she and Giz — that’s his nickname — have made hundreds of school visits in Connecticut and out of state. And after the mental health guide book was launched in 2017 by United Way of Connecticut, she said more canines across the country got certified as therapy dogs.

They, and their human volunteers, are now helping with the Gizmo curriculum, a federally-funded social-emotional learning tool subsequently developed in 2020 by United Way. The nonprofit collaborated with the Connecticut Department of Mental Health Services, Department of Children and Families, as well as the Suicide Advisory Board, for both the book and the curriculum — the latter is currently adapted by 20 schools statewide.

And now, the tiny fur ball, all of 3-and-a-half pounds, is leaving big paws to fill.

“You know, he used to be able to go all day,” Adams said. “Like, we’d get home and he’d grab his vest off the door like ‘Let’s go again, Ma.’ Now after a couple of hours, he’s getting a little tired and so … just let him enjoy his retirement.”

Giz’s younger brother, Gadget, and Giz’s doggie pals, will follow in his emotionally-supportive paw steps, Adams said.

Some of them gathered recently at Giz’s favorite Northwest Park in Manchester, where they frequently play together.

Like Giz, Tiny Teddy is a certified therapy dog. Also like Giz, he’s a Mi-Ki breed. Mom Chris O’Brien is mighty proud that he’s “following in Gizmo’s steps.”

Then there are the young ones in training.

Lynda Joly is head-over-heels in love with her 6-month-old boy, Bailey.

“Earlier this spring, I saw pictures of puppies that looked like Gizmo,” Joly said. “I called the lady [who had them], and here he is; Bailey arrived.”

This story is a production of the New England News Collaborative. It was originally published by Connecticut Public Radio.

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