By: Kathryn Anderson, LMFT.

Most dog owners can tell you how comforting it is to come home at the end of a long day and be greeted by a wagging tail and kind furry face. So, you can only imagine how powerful that experience may feel for a child who is struggling to feel comforted due to their mental, emotional or behavioral disorder.

San Diego Center for Children empowers over 1,000 people every day through therapeutic, educational, foster care and transition services. As a trusted resource, their team of trauma-informed experts works diligently across 8 locations to care for children and strengthen families.

As San Diego’s oldest children’s nonprofit, the past 130 years has taught them that despite having individuals committed to serving youth, sometimes human connection is not enough. We, as humans, often crave to be connected to the world around us, yet struggle to find connections in our daily lives. Utilizing therapy dogs has allowed them to bridge that gap to create vital connections for our youth.

Therapy dogs support our youths’ most basic needs to form healthy and safe attachments. They have been proven to decrease anxiety, reduce stress, build trust, increase motivation and more. Specifically, spending time with therapy dogs has shown decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol and increased levels of oxytocin, the neurochemical linked to attachment and feelings of well-being.

Time and time again across their programs, therapy dogs are seen assisting youth simply by being present. They help by increasing a youth’s focus, sense of belonging, allowing them to regulate their breathing, and in-turn, their emotional and physical state. Therapy dogs provide safety and acceptance, remaining consistently and unequivocally nonjudgmental in the presence of youth. Over the past 7 years, these dogs have become a constant in their programs, on their campuses and in all our hearts.

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