Animal Friends Bring Comfort to Young Clients

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

With Time Magazine buzzing about heroic animals and Yale Law School piloting a therapy dog-lending program, furry (and feathered) friends are certainly growing a reputation as valuable sources of inspiration and comfort for us humans. At the Phoenix House Academy of San Diego, students and staff agree with this positive trend—and so do the Academy’s three cats, two dogs, eight chickens, and pot-bellied pig.

“Having these animals around is life-changing for the kids,” says the Academy’s Facility Manager and Senior Counselor Antonet O’Toole. “They develop a caretaking relationship and a wonderful sense of camaraderie.” On any given day, Academy students can be found playing with the dogs while the chickens run around and the pig takes a nap on the porch. In addition to these on-site animals, the teens spend time with horses by participating in an equestrian program at the Horse of the Sun Ranch in nearby Pine Valley; they attend for 12 weeks to learn about horse care and riding, build self-confidence, and develop lasting relationships with their horses.

When students first arrive at the Academy, they often have no experience with animals. “The new kids want to start teasing them,” explains Antonet, “but the older residents intervene and say, ‘Hey, those animals are part of our family. We don’t treat our family that way.’ It’s inspiring to see that kind of leadership, that spreading of compassion.” Pretty soon, even the most hesitant students welcome the animals as part of their daily lives—they offer to care for them, help them, and play with them. One resident has even decided to pursue veterinary medicine when she graduates. “These animals aren’t penned up,” Antonet adds, “they’re part of us. It’s a wonderful sense of extended family. We try to establish here that there’s more than one way to be a family.”

To see more photos of our animal friends, please visit our Facebook album.

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1 Comment

  • Great story, wonderful pictures and a character building experience having the privilege to work at this facility.