He was loud, tough, and boisterous.
But that changed the moment he saw the dog trotting over towards him.
Recently, children at the Oasis Youth Shelter in Fort Myers were being reunited with Gracie–a dog they’d come to love. The reunification took place as a part of a pet therapy called “Beesley’s Paw Prints”, a United Way Collaborative that sends dogs to youth organizations and schools to promote better mental health wellness.
Privately, each child at this shelter was going through their own battles. But sharing simple moments with friendly dogs was a chance to not only escape their reality, but to learn how to deal with it effectively.
According to research by UCLA Health, the simple act of petting an animal releases prolactin, oxytocin, and serotonin—all the hormones that play a role in improving one’s mood. It can also help to lower anxiety, and mental health professionals say it can be a powerful catalyst in the therapy process, helping clients to feel comfortable enough to let their guards down.
For children at the Oasis Youth Shelter, it was not only a happy visit, but a nostalgic one. It turns out that many of the children had dogs in their homes before arriving at the shelter, and the pet therapy visit brought a sense of familiarity and comfort.
Those who were supervising the visit reported noticeable differences in the children’s moods when the dog arrived, and they were thrilled to see how much it encouraged even the toughest kids to open up.
Because of the impact this method can have in a troubled person’s growth and healing process, it’s now one of many tools LSF has incorporated in its ongoing journey toward effective, holistic, and innovative mental health support for young people.