UW Health looking for volunteer dogs to help patients

Participating pups do need to meet some criteria to qualify.
Published: Jan. 23, 2023 at 9:11 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 23, 2023 at 6:32 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – American Family Children’s Hospital wants to find some very special volunteers for a very special mission: offering a breath of normalcy and peace of mind for its young patients. However, they are not looking for your typical volunteers; to qualify, candidates will need to be some of the cuddliest, furriest, and tail wagging-est, applicants around.

On Monday, UW Health revealed the launch of its Caring Canine initiative, allowing the children staying at the hospital to receive bedside visits from friendly dogs and their owners. The program is meant to offer a sense of calmness and a feeling of normalcy during their stay, UW Health Kids’ child life education specialist Katie Glass explained.

“We are excited to launch this program and we need the community’s help to get it off the ground,” she continued. “This program will allow us to expand our efforts to help patients and families cope with the stress and uncertainty of their time in the hospital.”

The new effort is the successor to the hospital’s old Pet Pals program, which began in 1996 but ended during the pandemic. The big change between the two will be the number of visits each kid receives. While it used to be a dog would drop by a couple times a week; UW Health hopes patients will get a visit every day.

Participating pups do need to meet some criteria to qualify. There is a four-step application process that includes temperament testing before a dog is accepted. In addition, they must be able to:

  • Sit and lie down with only one command.
  • Stay until you call him or her with only one command.
  • Walk loosely on a leash and not pull, even when excited.
  • Be friendly with other dogs.
  • Be able to perform commands without treats as a reward.
  • Not bark or whine too much.
  • Be up to date on all vaccinations, including rabies.

The humans that come with them need to be 18 years old, commit to volunteering for a full year, and bring their four-legged volunteer to the hospital twice a week. Applications can be submitted here.

UW Health also has another canine-based program, its Canine Health and Medical Pals facility dogs. That effort is different in that they are specially trained, work 40 hours a week along individual coping plans, and interact with certain units in the hospital.

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