Pet Therapy: Supporting young people

The Lort Smith Pet Therapy team harnesses the power of the human-animal connection to engage and support at-risk young people.

Our programs help break down barriers and provide comfort, community connection, and opportunity for young people to shine.


Pet Therapy for At-Risk Young People

Over 13 months, the Pet Therapy for At-Risk Young People project introduced volunteer-dog teams into a range of specialised youth services across Melbourne. These services support young people experiencing vulnerability and disadvantage, who face an increased risk of disengagement from education and community, and contact with the justice system.

The project evaluated the benefits of Pet Therapy team visits for young people, service staff, and service settings.

“It helps me participate when I am calm and when there is a therapy dog there. It makes me feel like there is support.”

–  Brett* Pet Therapy participant

Key findings:

The project found that Pet Therapy team visits in youth service settings:

  • Generated feelings of calm and safety and supported emotional regulation for young people — many of whom experience emotional dysregulation and difficulty with trust due to the impact of early and ongoing experiences of trauma;
  • Supported young people to be present in the space, build trust and feel empathy;
  • Supported positive interpersonal interactions, improved group dynamics, motivation, participation and attendance;
  • Enhanced and amplified the effectiveness of youth service supports and interventions;
  • Strengthened known protective factors;
  • Profoundly impacted young people experiencing the most significant barriers to engagement.

Want to learn more about the Pet Therapy for At-Risk Young People project? Click below for access to the overview and summary report. 

This project was funded by philanthropic supporters.

Help Lort Smith continue providing Pet Therapy programs for at-risk young people

Lort Smith is committed to continuing Pet Therapy supports for at-risk young people across Melbourne, and is currently seeking support and investment to continue, extend and expand this program.

If you are interested in supporting our work or want more information, please contact us.


Animal Care Youth Pathways program

In 2023, Lort Smith conducted a small trial providing animal-focused volunteer and work experience opportunities for young people participating in the Pet Therapy for At-Risk Young People project.

Our aim was to trial supported activities that offered young people, facing significant barriers to training, work experience and employment, opportunities to attain valuable life and work skills. The program activities were designed to build confidence, experience, community connection and capability, strengthening pathways to further education and employment.

The Animal Care Youth Pathways trial engaged 70 young people in 11 sessions, and was delivered in partnership with specialist youth services. Sessions included outreach training activities with young people in education, residential and secure settings, as well as hands-on work experience at Lort Smith’s Adoption Centre.

Key findings:

Early results were promising, with participants reporting:

  • Reduced anxiety and improved emotional regulation;
  • Improvement in self-confidence, feelings of wellbeing, and positive self-concept;
  • Positive impacts on their sense of connection to self, to other people and to the animals they encountered in the program.

“I had the best time – I love being with animals – especially cats. Today has made me consider looking into courses around caring for and supporting animals.”
– Karly* Youth Pathways participant

Youth service staff also gave positive feedback about the benefits for young people, highlighting that the opportunity to contribute helped them see themselves in a positive light, to aspire and think positively about their capabilities and futures.

“The young people involved were able to have a sense of responsibility and feel like they were making a difference. Our young people are often working on building up their responsibilities and confidence in their abilities, so being trusted by the volunteers and staff at Lort Smith to undertake duties really helps with this!”
– Anna* Youth services staff

Help Lort Smith continue the Youth Pathways program

Lort Smith is seeking further funding to develop and deliver a formal pilot, and welcomes interest from youth services interested in partnership opportunities.

The proposed Youth Pathways pilot will involve:

  • Delivering and evaluating supported volunteering and work experience placements – and informal skills-based education programs at Lort Smith’s Adoption Centre and Animal Hospital; and
  • Developing opportunities for young people to complete accredited animal care and related vocational training at/with the support of Lort Smith.

*Names used have been changed to protect individuals’ privacy


Interested to learn more or partner with Lort Smith?

Email our Pet Therapy team for more information.