Flexibility: High

Social Engagement: High

What’s What: If you have a friendly dog or other pet, you can help create a “pawsitive” environment for hospital or hospice patients of all ages and brighten their day by becoming a pet therapy volunteer.

Amava Take: If you have a pet that thinks every person is a new friend, you can get your animal approved as a therapy animal and visit patients in hospice or in the hospital. Studies have shown that visits from cute animals can enhance a patient’s mood and reduce anxiety. Other studies show that having visits from a therapy animal increases a patient’s satisfaction with a hospital stay. At a minimum, having a visit from a loving cat, dog, bunny or other animals can lift a patient’s spirits and provide some much-needed fun. Generally, once your pet gets certified, you can visit patients in a hospital, an assisted-living center, or hospice patients. Some schools also have programs where you can bring your therapy pet to read with struggling students. Getting your pet certified as a therapy animal is a way you can share the joy of a great pet with others who could use some “puppy love” in their lives.

From the Front Lines:

What kinds of candidates are you looking for to fill these jobs?

Pet owners who have a friendly, well-trained pet that loves getting to know new people.

Any tips for first-timers to make it a productive and fulfilling experience?

Bring treats and toys with you when you visit.

What’s a typical daily schedule like?

This can vary depending on the specific animal and the site you are visiting. Some sites have specific visiting hours and procedures; some are more flexible.

From the Trenches:

What’s the most satisfying part of the job?

Seeing how much joy a simple visit from an animal can bring a child who is in the hospital.

How would you describe the hard parts?

The hardest part was jumping through the hoops the hospital required before my pet could get certified to visit patients.

Would you recommend this volunteer job to others?

Absolutely! This is such an easy way to cheer up people who are going through a hospital stay or other treatment.  

Special Requirements: Hospitals and hospice organizations generally have vetting procedures that require an application and references, for both you and your pet. Animals often have to be at least two years old and have a temperament evaluation by an approved agency, such as Therapy Dogs International. They also need to be up-to-date on vaccines and have a veterinarian recommendation. Some organizations have a training class and/or require that you commit a certain number of hours.

Finding a Position: Most organizations are local, so call your local hospital or hospice agency and see if they have pet therapy volunteer programs. There are some organizations that work in multiple areas such as Share A Pet (in California, Florida, New York and Boston) and Pet Partners with locations throughout the US. Another good way to find an organization is to check VolunteerMatch where you can search in your local area. The Alliance of Therapy Dogs provides testing, certification, registration, support, and insurance for dogs. Pet Partners is another non-profit registration and licensing agency. This article details a recent study about the benefits of therapy dogs.