Island Dolphin Care History

Joe Hoagland got off to a rough start in life.  Born with a heart defect that required numerous surgeries, Joe suffered a massive stroke during one of those surgeries.  It partially paralyzed his left side, leaving him unable to stand, sit or lie down without help and with a myriad of neurological challenges.

Joe was only three.

Because Joe had not responded well to traditional therapy, his mother Deena, a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist and teacher, thought water activities might give Joe more physical freedom.  So Deena took Joe to a facility that offered public swims with dolphins in Key Largo.  That’s where Joe met Fonzie, a 600 pound, 10-foot long Atlantic bottle nose dolphin, and a remarkable journey began.

Joe recovered from the paralysis through hard work and the inspiration he got from his relationship with Fonzie.  Deena believed that “if dolphins could help Joe feel better about himself, and motivate him to try new tasks, then the dolphins might also help others”, and Island Dolphin Care was born.

The magic continues.  Thousands of children with special needs (autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis, depression, developmental delays, heart disease and many other difficulties), veterans and their families from around the world have found joy.  Many of them have found a measure of improvement.  IDC emphasizes that “this is not a miracle cure.”  But wonderful progress can and does take place.  After trips to IDC, Ryan improved his verbal skills and memory, Jessica said “hello”, Shelby interacted with her surroundings, Emma learned to change her clothes and feed herself.  And Lucas laughed for the very first time.

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

Since 1990, Deena has worked with many  individuals and their families from around the world with various educational, emotional, and physical needs. The dolphins are co-therapists providing unconditional love and support. The program also provides unique educational experiences that often allow participants to become more expressive and develop closer bonds with family members, doctors, and therapists upon returning home.

For more about Fonzie, please visit the Tribute to Fonzie.

Here you can watch the video of our history.


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