Last Updated on July 14, 2023 by Fumipets
Unleashing Potential: Montreal Youth Centre’s Innovative Pet Therapy Program Brings Comfort to Youth in Need
Batshaw Youth Centre in Montreal turns to pet therapy, offering a unique, ‘pawsitive’ approach to help young people cope with stress and mental health issues.
Four-legged Therapists Offer Unconditional Love and Support
Therapy can often be daunting, but when your therapist boasts four legs, a wagging tail, and a soft, furry coat, the experience can feel significantly less intimidating. This is the premise behind Batshaw Youth Centre’s innovative pet therapy program in Montreal, which initially commenced as a pilot project a year ago. Given its resounding success, the organization has recently confirmed its intention to make the program a permanent fixture.
“Many of the youth we work with often feel undeserving of kindness and compassion,” says Elana Hersh, one of Batshaw’s group home managers. “The therapy dogs are purely there to offer love and friendship. They provide unconditional support and assistance, creating a sense of comfort and acceptance.”
Pet Therapy: Reducing Stress and Boosting Mood
Backed by the Batshaw Foundation, the program has accumulated sufficient funds to employ four dedicated pet therapists. They will run the program weekly at various locations across Montreal.
Studies validate the therapeutic value of interaction with animals. “Petting a dog lowers cortisol, a stress hormone, while boosting oxytocin, often referred to as the ‘feel-good hormone,'” explains Isabel Poulin, one of Batshaw’s pet therapists.
With 20 years of service as an educator at Batshaw and recent experience as a pet therapist since the pilot project, Poulin brings extensive expertise to her role. She also runs her own company, Pawtherpie, which focuses on creating safe, nurturing environments for at-risk youth through animal therapy.
The Role of Therapy Dogs in Mental Health Support
“Pet therapy effectively supports many clients and students grappling with mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation,” says Poulin. However, she emphasizes that the role of a therapy dog is not a fit for every canine.
“Each dog must undergo obedience training and be evaluated by a pet therapist to ensure their suitability for working with people in various environments. A dog that is good in the home might react unpredictably to high-pitched sounds like school bells or yelling from a distressed youth.”
The therapy dogs’ positive impact has been so pronounced that several young people at Batshaw have requested full-time, live-in pups. Hersh believes these therapeutic animals could be beneficial in numerous other scenarios as well.
“It’s not common for a 12-year-old to have to spend a day in court. Unfortunately, some of our youth do have to face these situations. An animal therapy dog present in court could provide much-needed comfort and support,” suggests Hersh.
With hopes to grow the pet therapy program further once more funding is accessible, the team at Batshaw continues to pioneer this ‘pawsitive’ approach to mental health support for youth in need.
To keep up with Batshaw’s innovative pet therapy program, visit here.
News Source: CTVNews Montreal