Struggling Teens: Animal Assisted Therapy Makes a Difference


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Island Dolphin Care helps children with autism and special needs.

Island Dolphin Care helps children with autism and special needs.

Animals help humans in more ways than we’ll ever fully understand, but what we do know is that they can have an important role in a person’s physical, social, educational and emotional well-being.

Animal-assisted therapy can be an effective alternative or addition to traditional therapy models, whether it’s physical therapy, occupational therapy or cognitive behavior therapy. Even though animal-assisted therapy may not be able to fully heal a person or cure their disease, this life-changing interaction and companionship can improve a person’s mobility, increase their self-esteem, foster learning and simply make life more enjoyable.

Here are 10 inspiring animal-assisted therapy programs:

  1. Island Dolphin Care: Island Dolphin Care in Key Largo, Florida, is a truly inspiring and unique animal-assisted therapy program that uses dolphins to assist children with special needs, including physical and developmental disabilities, emotional challenges and illnesses. The unconditional support and gentle, fun-loving nature of dolphins eases children’s nerves and helps increase their self-esteem. In addition to swimming with the dolphins, children will also learn a great deal about dolphins and improve their communication skills in the marine science and dolphin education program.
  2. NARHA-Therapeutic Riding: NARHA (North American Riding for the Handicapped Association) is a national organization that specializes in therapeutic horseback riding for children and adults with special needs. NARHA’s equine-assisted therapy programs have been shown to improve flexibility, balance and strength in people with physical disabilities, as well as increase their self-esteem and help them achieve goals they never thought were possible.
  3. Breathing Space Thailand: Breathing Space Thailand, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Thailand, has taken an innovative approach to helping people overcome their addiction and achieve sobriety with the help of elephants. This elephant-assisted therapy program is based on current equine and canine therapy models, but adds a different element of bonding through feeding, bathing and daily interactions within the elephant sanctuary. The gentle, fun nature and unconditional love of elephants helps clients overcome emotional issues, improve their mood and reduce anxiety as they recover.
  4. Hearts in Harmony: Hearts in Harmony is a pet therapy organization located in East Texas that provides support and comfort to abused and at-risk children and adolescents using cuddly canines. This early therapeutic intervention program will help children cope with emotional issues and allow them to relax and receive unconditional love from the Hearts in Harmony dogs and volunteers, who are specialized to teach children about trust, respect, compassion and humane treatment of animals.
  5. Therapet: Therapet is a non-profit animal-assisted therapy program that uses dogs, cats and miniature horses to help hospitalized patients with acute or chronic diseases feel better inside and out. Therapets serve a special purpose for patients during the rehabilitation and healing process. With the direction and supervision of therapists, these animals can help patients improve mobility, strength and balance, as well as increase self-esteem, reduce stress and anxiety and reach recovery goals.
  6. Helping Hands: Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled is a touching program that places specially trained capuchin monkeys to assist patients suffering from severe spinal cord injuries, mobility impairments and other disabilities. These monkeys help people with daily activities that they might never be able to do otherwise. In addition to being excellent helpers around the house, capuchin monkeys also provide companionship, love and support for their owners and help them feel better inside and out.
  7. Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas: The Mountain Peaks Therapy Llamas provide a fun-filled alternative to traditional animal-assisted therapy. These easygoing and friendly llamas bring a great deal of happiness and joy to their admirers at hospitals, schools, rehab facilities, day care centers and nursing homes around Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA. Patients interact with the llamas in a number of different ways, helping individuals improve mobility, reduce stress, combat loneliness and calm their nerves.
  8. HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response: HOPE Animal-Assisted Crisis Response is a truly unique and inspirational program that uses dogs to provide support and compassion to people affected by disasters and traumatic events. HOPE canines and certified handlers report all of over the nation to bring joy and comfort to people during the recovery phase. Simply playing with and petting a dog during tough times can reduce stress, improve your mood and help you cope more easily.
  9. Kitty Angels Foundation: Kitty Angels is a one-of-a-kind cat-assisted therapy program located in Massachusetts that assists the disabled, elderly and ill through fun-filled feline visits. Trained handlers visit hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes and bring their cuddly cats along for people to pet and play with. Often, patients develop close, meaningful bonds with the kitties and they experience increased mobility, decreased blood pressure and are less lonely.
  10. The Family Farm: The Family Farm, located in Twisp, Washington, provides farm-animal assisted therapy to children, adults and families who are in need of physical and emotional healing. From pigs, horses, goats and hens, The Family Farm gives clients the opportunity to work with one or all of the animals and assist with feeding, brushing, bathing and exercising. The animal-human interactions on the farm help people increase their strength, improve communication skills and motivate them to achieve goals.

If you are at your wit’s end with an at-risk teen or a teen that is struggling and making bad decisions, there are excellent programs that can help through animal-assisted therapy.   Parents’ Universal Resource Experts has helped, and continues to help, thousands of families dealing with troubled teens.

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