Romanian rescue dog saved from certain death now working in hospitals

Josie was rescued from a kill shelter in Romania and now works as a therapy dog in Teesside. Credit: Tees, Esk and Wear Valley NHS Foundation Trust

A Romanian rescue dog saved from death in a kill shelter is now bringing happiness to hospital patients.

Therapy dog Josie had been struggling for survival as a stray on the streets of Romania before being caged in a kill shelter, where she would have died if she had not been rescued and brought to the UK.

She has now found a home with the Gaynor-Johnson family in Redcar, on Teesside.

Now qualified as a specialist therapy animal, she spends time with patients in hospital.

“Josie came to us for a reason, and she felt so special that I just had to share her,” said Becky, 42, who works at a primary school in Middlesbrough.

“She’s so happy, so loving. She had a terrible life before we got her – so it’s remarkable how she just seems to know when people need her help.”

Josie and Becky celebrating the NHS's 75th anniversary. Credit: Tees, Esk, Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust

Becky has spent her whole life surrounded by animals – mostly strays – including her current four cats, who were all “accidental acquisitions”.

Her first foray into the therapy animal world involved a Rottweiler called Jack, who she found in a car park. His gentle nature made him a perfect candidate.

“It started when my dad was in hospital. He really wanted to see Jack, but the only way we could bring him in was as a registered therapy dog,” said Becky.

“Sadly, my father died before Jack passed his assessments. Poor Jack never got the chance to make any visits either, as he died very suddenly soon after.”

Becky went on to marry and have two children after Jack’s death – with the couple opting not to adopt a new dog until their youngsters were older.

Then, during the pandemic, Becky spotted a Facebook post seeking a home for a dog with health problems. She messaged to offer help but heard nothing.

“Three months later, I got a call from a random unknown number. I never usually answer those calls, but for some reason, I did that day,” she said.

“It was someone who had seen my message and wanted to know if I was still interested in adopting a dog. I was – and that’s how we ended up with Josie.”

Josie – a young miniature golden retriever mixed breed – was “scruffy, smelly and shedding hair all over the place” when Becky first met her in May 2021. It was love at first sight.

“It was obvious she’d had a very hard life,” she said. “The poor thing had a scar from where she’d had an ear tag, as well as scars over her legs.

“She’d ended up in a kill shelter in Romania, and would have been put down – but, very luckily, she got sponsored and brought to the UK.

“Despite everything, she was a super friendly dog. She really is phenomenal.”

Josie qualified as a therapy dog last year. Credit: Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust

Josie won over not only Becky and her family, but their cats too. Within weeks she had moved to her new home – although she needed extra love and care.

“She’d never lived in a house and lots of everyday stuff terrified her – like the sound of the kettle and hoover. She was also frightened of cars,” said Becky.

“The first time we took her to the beach she just lay on the sand on her side. It was too much for her. She was just overwhelmed by the sight of the sea.”

Slowly, but surely, the family helped to make Josie feel safe and loved. As she started to relax, so her qualities as a potential therapy dog developed.

“We took her everywhere with us to build up her confidence, like cafes, shops and Redcar Rugby Cub – where everyone gave her treats,” said Becky.

“We even took her to agricultural shows, where she took part in competitions and won rosettes like Most Gorgeous Girl and Friendliest Face. She loved it.

Josie has won rosettes for Most Gorgeous Girl and Friendliest Face at local agricultural shows. Credit: Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust

“She was so good with people that we knew she’d be a great therapy dog. She’s a real people dog, she loves stopping and saying hello to everyone.”

Josie qualified therapy dog last year and is now a regular visitor to Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation sites across Teesside.

At one complex she made such good friends with a patient that the pair even visited a beach together – sharing a strong bond of compassion and love.

“When we first got Josie, she didn’t want to get out of bed or do anything. If a patient feels like that, Josie really seems to understand them,” said Becky.

“She brings a calming aura wherever we go and will happily sit with a person and cuddle if they need her. I’m so glad I answered that random phone call.”

Josie is also a regular visitor to Becky’s school, where mass dog walks are a lunchtime treat, and she helps spread happiness at local nursing homes too.

“There is so much value in animals as therapy,” said Becky. “I’ve seen that with Josie first-hand. They really help people to relax and talk.

“We have helped to change Josie’s life, and now she is changing other people’s lives. What she is achieving is phenomenal – she is phenomenal!”

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