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Meet the animal therapists (4 photos)

A new mental health clinic in town has two therapy animals to help clients.

Owned and operated by women, Dorset Pier Mental Health opened on International Women’s Day.

Danielle Rider, a Registered Social Worker and Psychotherapist with a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology and Amanda Salerno, a Certified Child and Youth Care Practitioner, with a diploma of psychological therapies and completing play therapy fundamentals, started their own private mental health clinic to focus on clients’ comfort and well-being.

One of the ways they do that is through animal therapy. “There’s a lot of research that shows that the presence of an animal reduces your heart rate,” Rider explains. “When you’re coming in to counselling, you’re already at an elevated state because you’re nervous; you have to talk about a lot of difficult things.” Animals can also help foster a sense of connection.

Animal therapy is a missing service in Thunder Bay and Rider saw this gap and decided it was time someone took the opportunity to offer it. A lot of clients had previously brought it up as something they’d like to see. Filling that gap and providing a safe and comfortable place for clients was one of the main reasons she and Salerno founded Dorset Pier Mental Health. They are currently the only Mental Health Clinic that provides animal therapy and will have a fully certified therapy dog.

Harlow, a female purebred chocolate Labrador retriever “with a giant heart,” has been training for several months now, and will get her certification when she turns one year old this summer. Part of her training involves going out into busy public spaces so that she can remain calm even among unfamiliar sounds, people and smells.

Animal therapy can be particularly beneficial for children and youth. “Youth can be comfortable talking to adults, so if they can be supported by an animal, it increases their comfort level,” says Rider.

After Salerno suggested that some adults or small children might be intimidated by a dog, Simon the rabbit joined the team. A calm and sweet lop eared bunny, his presence can ease children into being comfortable expressing themselves and makes therapy easier.

Salerno says that for children, animal therapy has benefits similar to play therapy. It can be challenging for children to verbally communicate with a therapist, and distractions in the form of a furry animal, art, or play can help them relax, and give the therapist opportunities to prompt conversation. Salerno also offers play counselling and is completing her play therapy fundamentals training.

Animal therapy, like regular counselling sessions, can be covered by workplace benefit plans.

To learn more about Dorset Pier Mental Health and what services they offer call (807)333-0896 or email

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