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Paws & Think pet therapy supports LGBTQ+ youth

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — A special kind of pet is getting in on Pride Month. Therapy animals are offering support for unhoused LGBTQ+ youth in a local transitional living program. Representatives say we all need to feel love and acceptance, and the pets have that mastered.

Even if you’re not necessarily a dog person, you can see how much pets can lighten up a room, and Paws and Think representatives say research shows therapy dogs help reduce anxiety and depression. For the young people in the transitional housing, the dogs are a bright light during dark moments.

When building human and dog connection, you don’t need words or a lot of time. The cuddles and petting are all you need.

“As you know, animals just have a a unique way to help people feel connected,” said Ashleigh Coster, executive director of Paws and Think.

Trinity Haven is a LGBTQ+ youth transitional Housing program that has up to eight young residents at a time. They opened their doors a couple years ago.

“I think we all need to have that love and acceptance from an animal or a person, but sometimes the animal is the first step to them being able to really connect and not feel judged,” said Jen Alexander, director of transitional living with Trinity Haven.

She said if anything can get the house moving, it’s the dogs.

“We have some days, I’ll say doggies are here, and they come down.”

Paws and Think have been with them along the way, each Thursday bringing in a therapy pet to help ease the mood. Paws and Think says one out of every three LGBTQ+ youth seeking services here has left behind a family pet.

“We want all of the young people to come in and flock to our therapy teams,” said Coster. “Really just have that release. They could have an hour here and not really think about anything else.”

Coster says they have 150 pets and hundreds more volunteers making all this work. Today, Mazie is at work. She’s only 14 months old, but she’s mastered the job.

“We do have some of our young adults. They don’t want to be touched. They are guarded and they are careful.”

While this hour of pet therapy won’t fully fill the void, it’s helps, and for others, these pets just help them feel safe.

“Young people, they may not have anyone to talk to. They can talk to their dogs, who are always judgment free as well.”

Paws and Think has 60 community partners, and is constantly accepting new partners and volunteers.