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How one dog and her new owner brought kindness into the lives of many

Gaia is a Husky with a story to tell about how when one life ends, sometimes an even better one begins.

In Dallas, Texas, Gaia’s life was confined to a tiny backyard, because her loyal owner, Sandra, was hospitalized. Sandra’s next door neighbor, Lisa Kanarek, noticed that the nine-year old female looked lonely, so she offered to walk her.

“I walked in and then Gaia came up to me very slowly,” Kanarek recalled. “And then I said, ‘Oh, hi.'”

Gaia, a nine-year-old Husky. 

One walk turned into three weeks of walks. Then, the question Kanarek wasn’t expecting came from Sandra’s dear friend, Gilda Levy. “Two weeks before Sandra died, [Levy] said, ‘I don’t know if you’ve thought about this, but would you like to take her?’

Kanarek’s response? “Sure. I would love to.”

So, when the time came, Kanarek was summoned to Sandra’s home. The 80-year-old neighbor she barely knew was gone. “She had just died,” Kanarek said. She clipped Gaia’s leash on and walked the husky out of Sandra’s home, and into hers.

And from that moment on, Gaia’s life changed.

Kanarek wanted to get Gaia out more, and she noticed, on walks around the neighborhood, that Gaia was so calm around children. So, she and Gaia enrolled in, and passed, a pet therapy program.

“I can tell, when I put on her vest, she’s ready to go,” Kanarek said.

Their first assignment was Children’s Medical Center Dallas.

Here was an elderly dog, who rarely ever left Sandra’s home, now finding a home with Kanarek, and in the hearts of young children.

Gaia making friends at Children’s Medical Center Dallas. CBS News

Brooklyn, an 18-year-old patient, said, “Dogs are, like, the best thing that ever happened to me, like, in this hospital.”

Kanarek thought the piercing blue-eyed beauty was just right for another kind of therapy: hospice. It just so happened that when Gaia’s owner died, Kanarek was finishing her training to be an end-of-life doula.

Today, she and Gaia minister to the terminally ill.

Asked whether she was doing all of this for Gaia’s benefit, or for herself, Kanarek replied, “I think I’m doing this for both of us. I think it benefits both of us. She gets to go out and see people, and I get to see the response that she gets when she’s out. There’s just nothing better than that.”

Lisa Kanarek and Gaia, who has trained as a therapy dog. CBS News

Gaia has brought the writer out of her shell, so much so that Kanarek wrote about their life together in :

“Gaia’s life changed when she became part of our family. She interacts with the kids down the street (her fan club) during our walks, and she provides laughter and levity to sick children, all with her tail wagging. She goes with us on road trips and to outdoor festivals where she knows that people will stop to run their hands down her fluffy back or ask her for a high-five.

“My life is different too. Meeting dozens of people during our visits has brought out the extrovert tendencies I lost during the pandemic. Before I knock on each patient’s door, I breathe in, then greet families with confidence, knowing the reaction my sidekick will receive. …”

“As we pass through the halls of children’s hospital, I think of Sandra and hope she’s smiling, knowing how much joy Gaia brings to everyone she meets.”

“I’m trying not to cry,” Kanarek said, describing her new life with Gaia. “I don’t know. It’s just knowing the effect she has on people. It makes me happy; it makes me sad, because I wish I had known Sandra better, but I think this is the way that I’m helping keep her memory alive.”