Trust. Love. Play.
A key element of Youth Haven’s Counseling Center is our Animal-Assisted Therapy Program. Animal-Assisted Therapy is known to decrease stress levels, anxiety, depression, and blood pressure. Studies have shown that Animal-Assisted Therapy also improves the child and teen’s ability to communicate and socialize; improves mood; lowers stress hormones; increases self-esteem; and enables the child & teen to work on building and developing trusting relationships.
Youth Haven began the Animal Assisted Therapy Program in 2010 with a beautiful golden retriever named Dixie. She immediately connected with our children and teens and began to develop long-lasting friendships with them.
Animal Assisted Therapy at Youth Haven Southwest Florida Youth Shelter
Build Trust: Children who have been abused or neglected often find it hard to trust adults. They often feel misunderstood and keep their guard up.

Unconditional Love: Dogs show acceptance regardless of the kind of day the child had. There is no judgment. Dogs accept children immediately and show love and joy when greeting the children.

Encourage Play: Dogs are natural play therapists! They stay present in the moment, and are playful, social, honest and trusting. Play can help build healthy attachments; reduce stress; and strengthen physical, emotional, social, creative and cognitive processes in the brain.

Helping our children & teens feel happy, safe and loved.
Currently, we are working with community partners to help us provide Animal Assisted Therapy to the children and teens on our campus.
Building trust and teaching life lessons.
The story of one girls experience in Youth Haven’s Animal Assisted Therapy offers insight into the impact of animal therapy.
Youth Haven Animal Assisted Therapy Dog Dixie | Youth Haven SWFL
Sarah, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, was a 13-year old who had been removed from her home due to horrific physical abuse. Trust didn’t exist in her world and she was wary of everyone and everything. The day Sarah met the 70-pound golden retriever, Dixie immediately ran up and greeted Sarah with full acceptance and a wagging tail. Sarah stood back and stared at Dixie, questioning her motives and wondering what Dixie was going to expect in return. In no time at all, Dixie had gained Sarah’s trust, and the two quickly became fast friends.
Sadly, Dixie was diagnosed with an untreatable cancer, and upon finding out, Sarah immediately asked, ‘Is it something I did? Did I make her sick? Give her too many treats?” Even through Dixie’s final days, she continued her work, helping to teach Sarah and all the children and teens at Youth Haven that they are not responsible for the loss in their lives and that not all loss has to be confusing and painful. After the tears, Sarah and the other children came up with creative ideas to memorialize and honor Dixie, including making bandanas for Dixie with special heartfelt messages on them. Sarah wrote Dixie a letter expressing her emotions and gratitude:
“Dixie has helped me in so many ways. She helped me stay calm when I was feeling sad, angry, hurt and scared, by giving me kisses on my cheeks, hands and knees. I felt special when I was with Dixie because she accepted me just the way I was. Dixie is so special because she listens to what you are saying, she pays attention to you, she’s a golden with really pretty hair. Her ears are like angel wings.”

Paws 4 Kids is our annual free event to raise support and awarness for Youth Haven. Paws 4 Kids is open to the public and family friendly. Featuring one-on-one experiences with Houston and Champ, a fashion parade and contest, local celebrity judges, dog-related vendors, and a whole lot of fun!


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