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Meet Deena Hoagland of Island Dolphin Care (Aquapac Outdoor Champion)

When Deena and Peter Hoagland found themselves the parents of a paralyzed and visually impaired son, they discovered a way to not only help their son Joe but also help thousands of other families in similar circumstances.
In 1986, Joe Hoagland was born with a rare, life-threatening heart condition; he suffered a massive stroke during the third of five open-heart surgeries. The Hoagland family had recently moved to Key Largo, Florida from Coloradowhere the high altitude was compromising Joe’s health. The Hoaglands left their lives and friends behind in an effort to save their son. Starting a new life in Key Largo was lonely and overwhelming. Between doctor and therapy appointments there was little time left for family fun. Finding a place for Joe to play and just “be a kid” was difficult, especially since the stroke had robbed Joe of his independence and thus his favorite activity, swimming. Not knowing where else to turn, Deena, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, called an education and research dolphin facility in Key Largo. The owner told Deena to bring Joe around one day and he could meet the dolphins. Deena showed up at the door of the facility within minutes. Joe met a wondrous dolphin named Fonzie and a special friendship was immediately formed. Over the course of the next year, their friendship grew stronger. Deena utilized the playful interactions between Joe and Fonzie as a motivator to strengthen Joe, both physically and emotionally. Joe wanted to spend as much time as he could with his new dolphin friend. He worked extra hard in his other therapies with the hope of someday swimming with Fonzie. Approximately two years after Joe’s first dolphin encounter he independently slid into the water and swam with his old friend Fonzie. Today Joe is an adult with few remaining signs of the stroke. Deena theorized that if the dolphins could motivate and encourage her son, they might do the same for other children, veterans wounded in combat and families in similar situations. In 1997, Island Dolphin Care was created as a 501ã3 not-for-profit organization. Deena Hoagland, LCSW is the Executive Director of IDC and her husband Peter Hoagland is General Manager. Through their experiences with Joe they understand the unique path that parents of children with special needs. Parents arriving at IDC programs feel accepted and understood in a stress-free environment. IDC employs therapists with a background in special education, social work, and recreation therapy. The skilled therapists at Island Dolphin Care use the motivation and excitement generated in the therapy sessions to introduce new techniques and resources to each child and family.
Island Dolphin Care provides its core 5-day programs to families providing the opportunity to develop a personal relationship. IDC is proud of the special family experience it provides. Through their own personal experience Peter and Deena found that it can be difficult to find activities that the entire family can participate in. IDC’s therapy process includes everyone. Parents and siblings participate in every aspect of the therapy programs and are often invited to assist during the dolphin swim and on land therapy sessions. The programs end each week with a nature swim in celebration of the wondrous weeklong experience.
The unique combination of play and animal assisted therapy provides special needs children and adults with encouragement and joy. Island Dolphin Care strives to build self-esteem and self-confidence through the use of our wonderful dolphin friends for each participant. The dolphins provide unconditional motivation and support to those with various disabilities. Families from around the world have visited Island Dolphin Care and have left with memories that will last a lifetime. Everyone is capable of laughing, smiling, and feeling proud…at Island Dolphin Care each participant is given the opportunity to develop - to feel independent and confident, to laugh, smile, and feel proud in every aspect of their life.
For more information see Island Dolphin Care’s website at or call 305-451-5884.
A few testimonials:
“Every child deserves the opportunity to participate in activities that will enhance their emotional and physical well-being through joyful experiences.”
“Without judgment, without fear, they interact and accept you as something wonderful”
“Upon arriving on Monday morning until our departure Friday afternoon your staff could not do enough for us. They gave no only their time and expertise but their love and caring, Randy was comfortable from the first hello and I was able to relax and not worry whether he was in good hands and were all his needs being met. I didn't realize how much I needed that, I guess it’s been about 7 ½ years since I actually really relaxed. For that I thank you. The bottom line for my family is that you were able to get Randy to not only talk in complete sentences but give him an experience he will fondly remember for many years to come.”
(Deena Hoagland is Aquapac Outdoor Champion 2015)
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