Just two years ago, stray dog Josie was struggling for survival on the streets of Romania – before being caged in a kill shelter and earmarked for death.
She was rescued just in time and found a forever home with the Gaynon-Johnson family in Redcar after they potted a Facebook post seeking a home for a dog with health problems.
Owner, Becky, 42, from Middlesbrough, said: “I got a call from a random unknown number. I never usually answer those calls, but for some reason I did that day.
“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 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.
“Despite everything, she was a super friendly dog.”
Now the little dog with a big heart is bringing happiness to hospital patients across Teesside as a specialist Pets As Therapy animal.
Becky, who works in a primary school, 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 carpark. 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.”
Josie qualified Pets As Therapy dog just 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 at 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.”