Island Dolphin Care, a 501(C)3 Not for Profit Organization, Mourns the Death of Fonzie, its Dolphin Therapy Pioneer; the Altantic Bottlenose Dolphin Lived in Key Largo

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Island Dolphin Care, a 501(C)3, not for profit organization, is mourning the death of Fonzie, its dolphin therapy pioneer. Fonzie was a nine-foot long, 650-pound, Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin that lived in Key Largo, Florida. He was one of 12 members of the dolphin therapy team at Island Dolphin Care, which provides dolphin-assisted therapy to children with critical illnesses, disabilities and special needs from all over the world.

Island Dolphin Care, a 501(C)3, not for profit organization, is mourning the death of Fonzie, its dolphin therapy pioneer. Fonzie was a nine-foot long, 650-pound, Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin that lived in Key Largo, Florida. He was one of 12 members of the dolphin therapy team at Island Dolphin Care, which provides dolphin-assisted therapy to children with critical illnesses, disabilities and special needs from all over the world.

On the morning of March 11, 2004, Fonzie’s enchanting spirit left this world, leaving thousands of children and their families with extraordinary memories of a life filled with laughter, love, and compassion.

“It was an honor to be his friend and to have had the opportunity to work with Fonzie and all of the children that he was able to play with and love,” said Deena Hoagland, LCSW, the Executive Director of Island Dolphin Care. “We will continue in the work that he began and, as I promised him, his wisdom will carry us and Island Dolphin Care forever forward.”

Fonzie and the Hoagland family were the pioneers of Island Dolphin Care. Joe, the son of Deena and Peter Hoagland, was born with a rare heart defect, which necessitated five open-heart surgeries. During the third of these operations, at age three, Joe suffered a massive stroke, leaving him paralyzed on the left side of his body.

Living in Key Largo, Deena brought Joe to Dolphin’s Plus, a dolphin education and public swim facility. She was hoping for a recreational experience for her son and family. Little did Deena know that this afternoon visit would be the beginning of a lifetime adventure.

Deena and Joe were introduced to Fonzie. When the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin began to share his clicks and whistles with Joe, laughter filled the air as Deena and Joe laughed for the first time in months. Fonzie allowed the Hoaglands to reconnect as a family and to share an experience unlike any other.

After witnessing the immense love and compassion Fonzie showed for Joe, Deena knew that Fonzie could provide cherished moments and renewed energy for so many other families in special situations, just like theirs.

In 1997, Fonzie became a part of Island Dolphin Care, which was founded by the Hoaglands and a volunteer board. The children who visit Island Dolphin Care use dolphin therapy to help live with the daily burdens of terminal illness, developmental delay, abuse, and depression.

Joe Hoagland, through his work with Fonzie and other therapies, is now a 17 year-old with few signs of a stroke. Joe and his mother Deena will tell you that Fonzie picked them to be his friends.

“Fonzie had an incredible way of splashing away worries, fears, and pain allowing children to be children and families to be families,” said Deena. “Thank you, Fonzie, for providing so many moments of life and laughter through your spirit of love. You will never be forgotten.”

Joe will also tell you of his special connection with Fonzie. Little did the world know what a remarkable connection these two actually shared. Preliminary results from a necropsy performed this week show that Fonzie also lived with a congenital heart defect. Fonzie’s heart was half the size of that needed for a 650-pound dolphin.

Island Dolphin Care is a 501(c)3 not for profit organization that provides dolphin therapy to children with critical illnesses, disabilities and special needs from all over the world. Island Dolphin Care is located at the Dolphins Plus facility in Key Largo, Florida. There are 11 Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins located at the facility.

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Wendy Gentes
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