Youth Haven’s Animal-Assisted Therapy Program

Youth Haven, located in East Naples, supports boys and girls ages 6-19 years that have been removed from their homes due to abuse, neglect, abandonment or are homeless. Founded in 1972 and in continuous operation for over 49 years, Youth Haven is an immediate lifeline of safety, love and compassion for children in crisis and the first step in an often long journey back to trust, confidence and joy. Youth Haven’s beautiful and serene 25-acre therapeutic campus offers a safe place for the youth to live, sleep, play, learn, participate in life-skills programs and, what might be the most crucial of all, receive therapy and begin to heal.

When children and teens arrive at Youth Haven, they often feel betrayed, scared, and distrustful of everyone and everything around them. Youth Haven’s therapists meet with every child and teen and incorporate a variety of therapeutic tools in their sessions, including the Animal-Assisted Therapy. Animal-Assisted Therapy not only decreases stress levels, anxiety, and depression; it also improves the child and teen’s ability to communicate and socialize, increases self-esteem, and
enables the child and teen to work on building and developing trusting relationships.

Youth Haven began their Animal-Assisted Therapy Program in 2010 with a beautiful Golden
Retriever named Dixie. She immediately connected with the children and teens and began to develop long-lasting friendships with them. Currently, Champ and Houston carry on Dixie’s legacy and work with the children and teens of Youth Haven. Champ, a Golden Retriever, was rescued by Golden Retriever Rescue of SWFL from a kill shelter in Louisiana. Houston, a Black Mouth Cur, was surrendered to Collier County’s Domestic Animal Services. Both ‘furry therapists’ bring their own personality and style to their sessions. Champ loves to play, chase balls, and be outside while Houston loves to be read to, play dress-up, and go for long walks.

“Houston and Champ, our Animal-Assisted Therapy dogs bring a sense of safety and trust to the
relationship when the kids first arrive at Youth Haven,” said Linda Goldfield, Executive Director. “Due to their trauma, our youth often do not trust adults. However, dogs are loving, express
excitement upon seeing the children, are nonjudgmental, and have zero expectations, creating a safe relationship for the youth. Our Animal-Assisted Therapy Program is such an important
component of addressing the trauma the children and teens of Youth Haven have gone through, and we are lucky to have two great furry therapists by the sides of our youth!”

To learn more about Youth Haven and the programs and services that they offer to Southwest Florida’s vulnerable youth.

Please visit or call 239-774-2904.

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