A dog that was given a "death sentence" in a Romanian kill shelter has had her life totally changed - and now helps hospital patients across Teesside. 

Just two years ago gentle stray Josie was struggling for survival on the streets of Romania – before being caught and caged in a kill shelter and earmarked for death.

But miraculously the Gaynon-Johnson family, or Redcar, stepped in just in time, and little Josie found her forever home in Teesside.

Now the little dog with a big heart is bringing happiness to hospital patients across Teesside as a specialist 'Pets As Therapy' animal.

Get the latest news, sports, and entertainment delivered straight to your device by subscribing to The Northern Echo here

The Northern Echo: Josie on a therapy visit at Christmas time.

“Josie came to us for a reason, and she felt so special that I just had to share her,” said owner 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.”

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. Jack's 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.”

Read more: Rescue dog brings joy to Tyneside and Durham care homes

The Northern Echo: Josie and Becky celebrating NHS75. Josie and Becky celebrating NHS75. (Image: PR)

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. Inevitably, 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.

Read more: Newcastle family shock as huge stone dropped on family car

The Northern Echo: Prize winning pooch Josie. Prize winning pooch Josie. (Image: PR)

“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 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, her qualities as a potential therapy dog developed.

“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.

“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 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 of the Trust's sites, she made such good friends with a patient that the pair even visited a beach together – sharing a strong bond of compassion and love.

Read more: 

“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.

“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!”