Support & Therapy Services

Animal Assisted Therapy

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

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 NCH is so successful in helping improve patients’ physical and emotional well-being. In fact, research has shown that:

  • A 12-minute visit with man's best friend helped heart and lung function by lowering pressures.
  • Anxiety scores dropped 24 percent for patients who received a visit from a dog. We hear time and again that our canine visitors help reduce stress, pain, anxiety and loneliness, which can help the healing process.

Where our animal-assisted therapy teams work

Our friendly, loveable pet therapy dogs make visits throughout the hospital, the 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.

Since the program began at NCH in 2007, the dogs have made more than 68,000 patient visits. Currently, NCH has more than 80 dog and handler teams who visit over 1000 patients per month, morning, noon and night. 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 beds for a few welcome cuddles.

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

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

  • A team consists of a dog and its handler (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, 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.

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 k2king@nch.org.

Sponsorship for our animal-assisted therapy program is always 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.

A donation of any amount can go toward sponsoring a dog/handler team and is greatly appreciated. The cost to sponsor one dog/handler team for the life of their service is $350.  In return for a donation of $350 or more, we honor donors by displaying their name on our animal-assisted therapy 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).

Funds raised from sponsorships are 100% tax-deductible. Checks may be written 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.

Sponsor a Therapy Team

Therapy dog image
Lazer, therapy dog
Pet therapy image 2
Lazer with young patient