About Us

Island Dolphin Care Beginnings


Island Dolphin Care, Inc. (IDC) was created in 1997 to help children with special needs and their families. Over the years our programs have expanded and now include adults, veterans, and include participants with family members who have developmental and/or physical disabilities, emotional challenges, and critical, chronic or terminal illness. Island Dolphin Care believes that individuals with special challenges can and should enjoy the full range of activities that life’s experiences can offer, and that everyone deserves the opportunity to play, giggle and have fun! Island Dolphin Care, Inc., was created by Ms. Deena Hoagland, LCSW, after witnessing the remarkable recovery of her son, Joe, after he began swimming with dolphins at the age of three. Deena and her husband, Peter, brought Joe to Dolphins Plus, in Key Largo, FL in the hope that the dolphins might motivate Joe to use the left side of his body-weakened from a stroke which occurred during his third open-heart surgery. Joe had not responded well to traditional physical, occupational, and speech therapies. Joe began to make progress physically and psychologically in a natural, non-threatening, fun setting. He took pleasure and satisfaction in completing exercises, assisted by the unconditional support from the dolphins. Joe responded extremely well to this “new” approach, increasing muscle tone and flexibility, as well as increasing his self-esteem. With the support of the dolphins, especially his dolphin friend “Fonzie,” Joe was able to normalize his young life. Deena hypothesized that if dolphins could help Joe feel better about himself, and motivate him to try new tasks, then the dolphins might also help others. A variety of children with special needs could experience therapeutic success in an environment less threatening than standard medical settings.

Since 1990, Deena has worked with many children and adults from around the world with various educational, emotional, and physical needs. The dolphins are catalysts that provide unconditional love and support. The program also provides unique educational experiences that often allows participants to become more expressive and develop closer bonds with family, doctors, and therapists upon returning home.

Deena Hoagland graduated from the University of Denver with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Social Work. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the States of Colorado and Florida. Deena has worked in many clinical and educational settings, and is a psychotherapist and certified hypno-therapist.

Island Dolphin Care is a 501(c)3 not for profit organization, We invite you to meet our therapy staff, learn about our programs, explore resources for families, and meet our dolphins.

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