Gabriel is small and friendly, and you might see his long fur flying as he snoozes in a bicycle basket while his owner tools around town.

The black-and-white Shih Tzu has been trained as a therapy dog, and Worthington-area resident Paulette Gustafson is hoping people will know Gabriel is available to put a smile on someone's face.

"He's a little seven-pound bundle of joy," she said. "He gets so much attention and smiles. One of our last visits was at a Goodwill center in Columbus. We stopped to talk to a little Down Syndrome girl who was sitting there singing that song Tomorrow from Annie.

"She put her arms around Gabriel and said 'I love him -- he's an angel,' " Gustafson said. "I told her, 'Yes, his name is Gabriel.' "

Gustafson said tears rolled down her face that day.

"When I came out into the hallway, 10 people were waiting to pet Gabriel," she said. "One man who was in a wheelchair picked Gabriel up and put him on his lap."

Gustafson decided to adopt Gabriel and seek certification for him as a therapy dog after she received help from a therapy dog herself.

"I know what it is like to sit in a chemotherapy chair for two years," she said.

In 2008, Gustafson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after feeling a painful twist in her abdomen while mulching leaves in her yard.

"I had to have emergency surgery on a tumor and was in the hospital for 12 days," she said.

Gustafson went home with 40 staples in her stomach.

Soon after, her doctor said she should undergo chemotherapy to be sure all of the tumor was gone.

"I was scared to death during the treatments," she said. "I lost my hair, my eyebrows and was in a lot of pain. I felt like someone hit me in the knees with a two-by-four. I felt worse with every treatment."

Gustafson said a little therapy dog came into the treatment room one day.

"He was a black-and-white Shih Tzu and his name was Ralph," she said. "My father's name was Ralph. You know, when you are ill, you hold onto every little thing, and it seemed important that his name was Ralph. I'd never heard of therapy dogs, but this dog really made me feel better.

"I made a promise to God that if I lived, I would adopt a dog and train him to be a therapy dog," she said.

Gustafson said many Worthington residents might recognize her because she worked at Franklin Covey at Worthington Square for five years.

She now has a degree in counseling and life coaching.

Gustafson adopted Gabriel from Ohio Fuzzy Pawz Shih Tzu Rescue in October 2009 and went through the training to get him certified as a therapy dog.

"We signed his papers in July," she said. "I hope Gabriel can give joy to people who are ill, to autistic children or children who have attention disorders, or to residents in a nursing home, or anyone who needs a little help.

"I'm open to anyone who wants Gabriel to put a smile on someone's face," she said.

Gustafson has a son, Todd Fisher, who lives in Worthington with his wife Rosemary. She has three grandsons in Worthington schools: Gavin, 14; Zane, 11; and Brock, 5.

For more information, e-mail Gustafson at

Learn more about therapy dogs at the website