Our Nexus Mille-Lacs New Trails Group Home in Onamia, MN, has added a new member to their home – of the fluffy variety.
Mr. Mittens was a stray cat that staff and youth noticed hanging around, looking for food in the dumpster. The youth at New Trails started to leave out food and water for him, as well as attention. Like the youth at New Trails, Mr. Mittens was in need a home to live in and family to love him.
Welcome Home, Mr. Mittens
The staff at New Trails decided to make Mr. Mittens an official member of the house after witnessing him comfort a youth, who had gone outside to sit on the front steps. Mr. Mittens walked up to this visibly distressed youth and began to crawl all over him, “hugging” him as best as a cat can, trying to make him feel better. The youth started petting him and the staff could tell Mr. Mittens was helping the youth’s mood improve. “After seeing that interaction from the kitchen window, we knew that this kitty was special and needed to be a part of our home,” said Denise Dallas, the Group Home Supervisor at New Trails.
Providing Emotional Support
Though not a certified emotional support animal, Mr. Mittens seems to know whenever one of the youths are hurting or struggling emotionally.
“Over the last few weeks, I have spent many hours doing one on one talks with different youth, having tough conversations and not always delivering the most wanted news,” said Dallas. “It’s hard. Through the anger and the tears, no matter who I was talking to or where I was in the house, as these conversations were happening, here comes Mittens to crawl up in the lap of the youth who needed a little extra support.”
Mr. Mittens seems to have an uncanny ability to sense whenever a youth is distressed, and find them and comfort them, no matter where they are in the house.
“I have seen him hug kids and gives a kitty version of fist bumps,” said Dallas. “We have 8 kids in the house and when you must have a private conversation with them about something tough, you take them to a different area of the house and Mr. Mittens just seems to know when he needs to join the conversation and he is there when he needs to be providing support to that youth.”
All the youth take turns caring for Mittens (with staff support and supervision), feeding him, changing out his litter box, giving him water, etc. Besides the emotional support Mr. Mitten’s provides, the youth have an opportunity to learn how to care for another being, and the responsibility that comes along with that task.
“I have a few youths here who change 100% interacting with Mittens,” said Dallas. “It just warms your heart and is cute as heck. He has been such a great addition to our house”.
Mr. Mittens has crawled his way into the hearts of the youth and staff at New Trails and is living proof of how animals can positively impact our mental health.
"I have a few youths here who change 100% interacting with Mittens. It just warms your heart and is cute as heck. He has been such a great addition to our house."
- Denise Dallas, New Trails Group Home Supervisor