Optimist presently uses dogs for
our Pet Therapy Program and all
dogs have been Canine Good
Citizen Trained (CGC) through
the American Kennel Club and
well as certified as Pet Therapy
Dogs through Therapy Dog International (TDI).  As such, the dogs are always with a handler and never alone with the residents.
“Having a pet around me is the best feeling in the world. I loved it!” -Optimist Resident

Optimist Youth Homes
& Family Services

6957 N. Figueroa St. Box 41-1076 Los Angeles, CA 90041-1076
Telephone: (323) 443-3175

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Volunteers and their dogs visit weekly to work with our residents.  Acknowledging that some residents are not good candidates for traditional “talk” (individual or group) therapy, Pet Therapy offers the residents an alternate, less intimidating, form of therapy as each resident sits with their own handler/dog team.  The residents are able to get outside of themselves, their problems, and thoughts and become completely attentive to the dogs.  The dogs have a very meditative effect and you can actually feel the level of focus between the residents and their dogs.  Group activities include reading articles about dogs,  (with related discussions), art projects, playing games, as well as exercises in Nose Work and Agility.  It doesn’t take long before the residents are dropping to the floor, making eye contact with the dogs, laying next to them, petting, grooming and giving the dogs “high fives”.  Providing an opportunity for residents to interact with consistent, trustworthy companions, the dogs offer an experience the residents haven’t had a lot of exposure to previously.  It has proven to be a very effective activity that cuts through the “tough guy” layer like nothing else we have seen.

Individual sessions are available as needed for the residents.  The dogs can go to the dorms or the residents can take the dogs to the field, garden, etc.  It doesn’t take long for the topic to go from the dog to whatever is on their mind.  Dogs have proven to be an excellent intervention across the board.

Relatedly, the experiences in Pet Therapy generalize to the dorm’s treatment setting. 
The residents have a very neutral topic to start any session or caseload with, which always expands to their childhood, home life, and so on.