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Pet therapy—a great way to bring joy and comfort to hospital patients

Lazer, an NCH pet therapy dog and his handler

Meet Lazer, NCH animal-assisted therapy dog, and handler Dr. Don Lang, DVM. Lazer is a Sheltie.

Nothing lifts the spirits and puts a smile on a patient’s face like the tail-wagging friendliness of a pet therapy dog. That’s why animal-assisted therapy (AAT) at Northwest Community Hospital is so successful in helping improve patients’ physical and emotional well-being.

In fact, results from the animal-assisted therapy program at UCLA Medical Center show improvement in cardiopulmonary pressures and neuroendocrine levels, as well as reduced anxiety in heart patients.

Where our animal-assisted therapy teams work

Our friendly, loveable pet therapy dogs make visits throughout the Hospital, the NCH Youth Center, the Mental Health units and, in particular, the Pediatric ER—where they help our youngest patients overcome fear or pain.

They also assist in the rehabilitation process, where pet therapy dogs and their trainers work with our Physical Rehabilitation Services staff. Currently, NCH has more than 60 dog and handler teams who visit over 900 patients per month.

Our volunteer dog and handler teams only visit willing hospital patients. If a patient is not able to receive visitors, then the dog and handler team may make a “door visit,” greeting the patient from the doorway. Smaller dogs are sometimes permitted to visit with patients on their bed for a few welcome cuddles.

Pet therapy—providing a new dimension of care

The pet therapy dogs provide a unique dimension of care at NCH that is unlike any other therapy. The pure joy and comfort that the visits bring to the patients is remarkable. We hear time and again that our canine visitors help reduce stress, pain, anxiety and loneliness, which, in turn, can help the healing process.

Comments the Hospital has received about the animal-assisted therapy program include:

  • “My daughter smiled for the first time in days. She loves animals! Thank you for bringing the dogs to visit.”—Parent of a patient in Pediatrics
  • “Thank you for such a wonderful experience. Having pet therapy lifted my spirits and made my day joyful. I loved it!”—Patient in the Ambulatory Infusion Clinic
  • “Dakota was so well behaved and calm, she made me feel calm also. What a sweetheart! This program is wonderful.”—Patient on 4 North

Looking for animal-assisted therapy volunteers

An animal-assisted therapy dog provides pet therapy to an NCH patient

Lazer brings comfort and companionship to a young NCH patient.

We continue to recruit additional therapy dog and handler teams to expand our program.

  • A team consists of a dog and its handler, who must be the owner of the pet and at least 18 years old.
  • Therapy dogs can be any breed, but must be in good health, obedient, enjoy people and get along with other dogs.
  • Volunteers need to complete an application.
  • Qualifying dogs go through a two-hour temperament and obedience evaluation by professional dog trainers.
  • Teams that pass will attend a three-day training course at the hospital that includes mock and trainer-supervised patient visits, and a briefing on hospital policies and proper infection control practices.
  • There are modest fees to help offset the costs of the temperament evaluation and training.

Animal-assisted therapy team sponsors welcome

  • The animal-assisted therapy program is dependent on charitable donations to help cover the costs of recruitment, training, semi-annual lab testing, marketing and supplies.
  • Funds raised from sponsorships are 100% tax-deductible. Checks may be made out to the Northwest Community Healthcare Foundation, a 501C3, not-for-profit organization. Please indicate that the donation is intended for animal-assisted therapy. Once the check is received, a follow-up letter will be sent with the tax information.
  • In return, we honor all of our sponsors by displaying their name on our AAT sponsorship wall located in a prominent location in the Hospital.
  • Each plaque displays a photograph of the dog/handler team and the name of their sponsor(s).
  • The cost to sponsor one dog/handler team for the life of their service is $300; however, a donation of any amount can go toward sponsoring a dog/handler team and is greatly appreciated.

Apply to join our animal-assisted therapy teams today! Just download an application and mail it back to NCH. Or, for more details on the animal-assisted therapy program and how to donate, contact Kathy King at 847.618.7968 or

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Last modified: 04/19/2013