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Patients & Visitors  ›  Support Groups & Therapy

Animal-Assisted Therapy

Nothing lifts the spirits and puts a smile on a patient’s face like the tail-wagging friendliness of a pet therapy dog. We hear time and again that our canine visitors help reduce stress, pain, anxiety and loneliness, which can help the healing process. Plus, research shows that a 12-minute animal-assisted therapy (AAT) visit helps improve heart and lung functions and can drop anxiety scores by 24%.

How AAT Works at NCH

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. The teams also assist in the rehabilitation process, where pet therapy dogs and their trainers work with our Physical Rehabilitation Services staff.

Want to be a volunteer?

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. 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 the AAT application to be considered. If accepted into the program, volunteers must complete the NCH Volunteer Application process which includes the application, medical release, volunteer orientation, health requirements and background check
  • 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

To apply for our animal-assisted therapy teams, just download an application and return it to NCH. For more details on the animal-assisted therapy program, contact Kathy King at 847‑618‑7968 or

Sponsor an Animal-Assisted Therapy Team

Our AAT program depends 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 gift of that amount or more, we honor donors by displaying their name on our AAT wall that’s prominently located 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 501(c)(3), 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. Or you can Sponsor a Therapy Team online.

Learn about the organization that accredits our AAT team