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Transcripts of Selected Group Discussions on CYC-Net

Since it's founding in 1997, the CYC-Net discussion group has been asked thousands of questions. These questions often generate many replies from people in all spheres of the Child and Youth Care profession and contain personal experiences, viewpoints, as well as recommended resources.

Below are some of the threads of discussions on varying Child and Youth Care related topics.

Questions and Responses have been reproduced verbatim.

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Animals in work with kids

Hello to people out there. Are you in a residential setting with teenagers with challenging behaviour? Have you tried introducing animals to the residential setting? What are the drawbacks – cruelty, neglect? What are the advantages – kindness, caring responsibilities?

How did care staff deal with with responsibility of animals in the environment, did the institution employ extra or specialised staff to assist/educate, or was it done through the school or tradional education system? I am most interested in replies. I am thinking of bringing in two donkeys from a sanctuary setting into our detention centre. We have loads of land and the finances to support such a project but I am interested in any other aspects.


Here are some references on animals in the classroom.


From: Wendy O'Connor

Dear Anne,

I am currently working as a school counsellor at a boys boarding school. I bought a puppy ("Max" the Bulldog) a few weeks ago and had to bring him to school as he was too little to be left alone all day. The effect on the boys was phenomenal. I have some teenage clients who are extremely withdrawn and it is a struggle to establish a repoire with them. However, Max broke the barrier. When they saw him, they started talking about their own dogs back home and this naturally led on to sharing about themselves. I've seen even the most toughest boy, scoop the dog up, put him on his lap and cuddle him. Many of the boys come and visit Max during their lunch breaks. I think that animals can bring out another side in children and that your idea is great.


From: Karl Gompf

Hi Anne:
For several years, I was involved in operating a treatment home for youth in a rural setting. Over the years we had a variety of animals – a lamb, dogs, cats, horses, pigs, ducks, chickens, rabbits, and a donkey. Also, some residents had other pets such as a rat – and I think there was one ferret.

We found that there can be some real benefits – and some real learning – for everyone – if animals become a significant or even a minor part of a program. Just look up the research!!

We also found that there can be some drawbacks. We learned:

* Some children/youth may abuse/harm animals.
* Some staff members may not like animals and therefore may not contribute to their care – and may not support any efforts to help residents learn what they might
* Some staff (just like some parents) will agree to allowing animals in a program – and then will expect the residents to do all the work – usually on the basis of 'teaching responsibility' – then when it is seen to be unworkable due to 'these kids' who won't take responsibility – guess what?? The inevitable suggestion pops up – 'Let's get rid of the animals.'

There is more, but here are a few suggestions:
* Do not bring any animals into a program without discussing it with all staff members. Make sure that they publicly state if they are willing to help. If even one person is opposed, it may become difficult to involve the animals in a therapeutic sense.
* Have only a few animals. When there are too many the care of the young people may be compromised. More on this if you want to call me.
* Make sure everyone understands that an animal (pet) will not be with you forever. Teach about the life-span of each animal..
* Have all staff members and residents read some of the literature on the therapeutic benefits of using animals in a care setting. Years ago, one boy found a turkey – an escapee from a truck on the highway. He said, 'I only talk to my turkey about my problems.' Later, he was able to talk to adults.
* Provide training for staff members on issues such as separation and loss, death and dying, issues related to cruelty to animals – and how the use of animals may promote some good work with young people if you address these areas.
* Pay attention to how you name the animals.
* Don't eat the animals that you use. Sell them or give them away when the time comes – make sure that everyone is involved in the process.
* Choose the animals carefully – donkeys are good – there may be many lessons on 'stubbornness' and, of course, the time honoured story of the boy, the man, and the donkey (ass). A valuable lesson for those working in the social services.

Good luck,
Karl Gompf

From: Aaron Martin

A donkey might work.
A small animal was thrown by a youth and died a nasty death. A cat killed the rabbits net result a bunch of cat detesting youths.
The cat literally broke into the cage and chewed the heads off it was horrible.

From: Gail Schultz

One of our boys has had a dog for the last two years. It has worked well. Rules were set such as: any cruelty to the animal will be reported to the SPCA, and they will mediate the issue for us. When the boy trained his dog to 'attack' our students (even though it was done in fun), the boy and the dog were sent to the SPCA for training!

As staff we took on a parental role. We ensured that the dog was fed and well looked after, and if necessary did it ourselves – much as a mother and father would have done. But we did not have to intervene much in this case, and it worked out well.

Thought I'd share a different story with you. A stray cat recently adopted my office, coming in through an open window at night, disappearing as soon as I unlocked in the morning. After a while the cat became braver and one morning stayed in the office. The students in Campus discovered the cat and reacted with shock and fear. Many of the adolescent boys in Campus are
ex-street children, who dislike dogs and fear cats. (When I worked in a nursery school this was something many of the young black children had in common – they also disliked touching the fur of teddy bears).

The boys asked: "Where did the cat come from?" At this stage there were about 5 boys huddled in the doorway, ready to run if the cat approached them. "She's come from the streets" I answered without thinking "She seems to be used to people, so she had a good home once. Somehow she ended up on the streets, and now she's found a safe place to sleep in my office." There was a moment of stunned silence, then one of the boys said: "She's a street cat?" "Yes" I said. One by one the boys came quietly into the office and stroked the cat. Soon she was being passed from one boy to the other.

Newcomers were told "She's a street cat. She lived on the street. Now we're going to look after her on Campus."

Unfortunately the cat has now disappeared. We had to take her to the SPCA because she was sick – and they treated her for a cough, and for worms. They also sterilised her. She was brought back, and immediately ran away. The boys are looking for her.

Kempton Park
South Africa.

Dear Anne
Great thinking, and good questions you have raised about possible cruelty or neglect of animals versus the positive impact that animals can bring into young peoples lives. Perhaps you can get in touch with Lesley De Klerk at Paws for People. Her e-mail address is, and her telephone no is +27+11 768-3643.

Paws for People adheres to the standards set by the Delta Society in USA. It works on the Animal-Assisted Activity concept. (AAA) AAA provides opportunities for motivational, educational, and/or therapeutic benefits to enhance the quality of life. AAA are delivered in a variety of environments by specifically trained professionals, para professionals and volunteers, in association with animals that meet specific criteria.

I hope that Lesley will help you to develop a great idea!

Marian Murray

Dear Anne
I have just had another idea of educational programmes around animals. Cheetah Outreach which is based in Stellenbosch, South Africa, do have a Schools Program, where they take a cheetah out and do talks about caring for the environment as well as the importance of conserving habitat for wild animals. Their cheetahs are captive bred and hand reared and trained to deal
with young people. It is a touch program where youngsters can stroke a cheetah, feel the vibration of their purrs, feel the difference between the spots and the rest of the fur, etc.

For those who live here, I know that Cheetah Outreach do fly around South Africa to do these educational talks and maybe those interested can fit in with their next big trip. They do have a web site which is, which you could perhaps visit to see if anything fits in with your ideas around animals and young people.

I worked there for a while and saw the phenomenal impact that these creatures had on youngsters. One specific eight year old Down's child came out of himself, and was asking questions of a regular functioning adolescent. Good Luck with your idea's. Keep it up!

Marian Murray
Southern Cape/Karoo

Dear Melissa,

Hello there, my name is Sarah and I think I might have some information about using animals in therapy that could help you. I am currently a second year Child and Youth Care student and am very interested in working with animals and youth because I firmly believe that the bond fostered between troubled youth and animals can be extremely theraputic for both the animals and youth. Animals seem to be able to reach youth with their unconditional love more effectively than us humans sometimes.

There is a couple of places I suggest to find information. First is an article I found on which discusses a pilot project in B.C where Young Offenders are working with the SPCA to train dogs with 'special needs' so they are more adoptable. This is part of the youth's rehabilitation program and so far the results have been very encourraging. The dogs have had a calming effect on the youth and have also given them a sense of purpose which is vital to self-esteem. In addition the young offenders have been very successful in their training efforts and several dogs have already been adopted into good homes.

Second I know it's not particularly focused on 'youth', but there is a great book called The Incidental Guru written by Cindy Stone. Cindy is a psychologist and in the book she talks about overcoming personal obstacles through her work and relationship with a dog with aggression problems. I just liked her ideas that the dog not only reflected her issues back at her but also helped her conquer them. I think the concepts she talks about could definitely be transfered to youth at risk.

I also used to volunteer at a farm in Wales that had a special programme for teenagers that had been excluded from school. The programme consisted of some classroom time on site and working with the animals on the farm. I just loved this programme as again it gave the youth an opportunity to gain a sense of purpose and mastery as they learnt new skills, and took
responsibility for different animals. It wasn't so much that the animals were used 'in' therapy but rather as a tool for self awareness and development, it was amazing to see the transformation in some of the young people. On this farm they also worked with people of all ages with disabilities. If you are interested in this then please e-mail me back and I will try to put you in touch with them.

Finally, have you tried contacting the Oprah web site. She has had a couple of guests from programmes in the States where dogs and horses are being used with youth at risk and youth with disabilities, so they might have some links that could be of help.

I hope that this information is both relevant and helpful. I am just starting out in the Child and Youth Care field, but it is my dream to set up a programme for youth at risk and troubled animals, so if you find any more information I would really appreciate it if you could pass it on.

Good luck with your research.
Sarah Hart

Also ...

Query received
13 January 2003

I was wondering if any one has had experience in using animals as therapy with children who are sexually acting out. Tell me of positives and possible dangers.

Thanks in advance.

Anonymous response.

I used to work with adolescent male sex offenders. These boys were not able to engage with animals while they lived in the group home as some had disclosed sexually abusing animals. As well these boys sometimes became angry and took their anger out on helpless animals. For example, a stray cat would wander up the steps of the group home and one of the boys would kick the cat off the step. Needless to say this was one of the more negative experiences, and I did not get the opportunity to see any positives during my work with the boys with regards to animals.

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