- Associated Press - Sunday, January 8, 2017

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) - The Lee County Youth Development Center added a new member to its staff of caretakers this year, though this one comes with fluffy, golden curls, a baby-blue sweater and a dark, wet nose.

Haley the Goldendoodle moved into the center’s Transitional Living Home on Grand National Parkway in Opelika back in October when former LCYDC board member Tracie West donated the puppy to the center.

Young adults in the center’s Transitional Living Program live in the home, giving them a family-like environment to help prepare them for independent living after they leave the center. Fourteen 16- to 21-year-olds live at the house where they share chores, practice cooking, learn to manage finances and now learn to care for a pet.

Haley immediately became part of the “family,” said Phillis Jeter, transitional living operations manager and case manager. Everyone at the home dubbed her their little sister.

“It’s a whole big family,” Jeter said. “Everybody is just like sisters and brothers here, and I’m the mama.”

Haley has in turn taken to those living at the home, following them around the house, barking at their doors when it is time to wake up and waiting for them at the door when they get home, Jeter said. Overall, Haley has given the young adults a companion.

Companion and stress relief

Before buying Haley, West said she researched the breed and learned of how they can help people. She purchased the dog for her family, but said the timing wasn’t right. She immediately thought of the LCYDC, which she had gotten a dog for when she served on the board in the past.

“I think we all know that having a dog around, it’s a wonderful help to have a friend,” West said. “I think those kids a lot of times don’t have the opportunity to have pets and care for something other than just themselves, so hopefully she’s getting tons of love and attention, which I think she is.”

Jeter emphasized the impact Haley has had since her arrival, both as a companion and a source of stress relief for everyone at the house.

“A lot of them, when they get mad and disagree . they’ll say, ‘Well come on Haley.’ They’ll take her downstairs and they’ll play with her. Then a couple hours later, they’ll come back and then they’ll want to talk,” Jeter said.

For many children in the home, Haley is their first dog, and even their first pet. But to Jeter, she’s more than an animal, she’s a key part of the family and nurtures the whole house.

“She understands what’s really going on,” Jeter said. “Each and every individual child has their own issues. No two children are alike. And a lot of them don’t have families - I mean anybody. So, bringing her in is just like a new family member that makes them feel comfortable.”

For more information about the LCYDC, visit www.lcydc.org.

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