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Animal therapy helping teens at Baker Victory Services

Man's best friend is helping with some everyday challenges for teens at Baker Victory Services.

Lackawanna — Baker Victory Services has another tool in the tool box to help the kids and adults they serve.

It's an animal therapy program designed to help with mental and emotional challenges.

"They've been through some things in their life that they needed help with," Lyndsey Todaro, the Baker Hall School principal, said.

Danielle, 18 years old, and Alanna, 16 years old, are students at Baker Hall School. Life has not always been easy but they said they've found some relief.

"I remember the one day I was upset and went into the office and he just like came over to me," Danielle said. I didn't call him or anything and he like laid his head on my knee."

The students at Baker, like Danielle and Alana, deal with mental and behavioral health issues. The goal of Baker is to educate in a safe and healing environment. Therapy dogs like Baker and Sherman help facilitate that.

"It was hard for me to talk to my therapist before that," Alanna said. "But having Sherman there was very relaxing."

Both young ladies said they feel more understood by these dogs than just about anyone else. Instead of questions about how they are doing, Baker and Sherman just sit with them. Instead of judging their feelings, they offer unconditional love.

"I have seen, first hand, a very, very upset child who is having a lot of difficulty regulating be able to sit with Baker or Sherman and within a period of minutes, return to baseline," Cindy Lee, the Chief Clinical Officer at Baker Victory Services, said.

It was Lee's idea to introduce an animal therapy program where dogs and cats are available to the people they serve whenever they need them. She said there is science behind this.

"It's actually physiological," Lee explained. "So there is a lot of science that indicates that when anyone pets a dog, there is a reduction in the cortisol levels which is our stress hormone and an increase in your oxytocin levels, which is your pleasure hormone."

In addition to the physiological reactions, the dogs have gone through extensive training. Baker, for instance trained in Rochester with Off-Leash K9 training and got his "therapy dog certification" in Virginia. He now spends nearly everyday helping people at Baker like Danielle and Alana.

"I feel like they can sense more and even though they can't communicate like we can, they can communicate in their own way," Danielle explained. "Like coming up to you. Like just being around you."

In addition to Baker and Sherman, there are three other dogs and two other cats on staff at Baker Victory Services.