Pawprints, supported by PetSmart Charities | Dog and Handler Application

Thank you for your interest in volunteering for the Pawprints Dog Visitation Program. Please review the volunteer guide, as well as the information below about our requirements and application process.

If you/your dog meet our requirements and are interested in being placed on the Pawprints volunteer waitlist, please complete the Waitlist Request Form. Waitlist status is not strictly first-come, first-served. Dog/handler teams are chosen based on how well they match program needs (dog breed, dog size, availability, etc.).

Pawprints Waitlist Request Form

As volunteer opportunities become available, the Program Coordinator will invite waitlisted teams who match program needs to complete a full application.

If you have any questions about program requirements or application process, please contact: Lynn Belkin, Pawprints Program Coordinator at 617-355-6743 or

Application Process

The Pawprints application process can take up to 6 months to complete. Failure to pass or complete any requirement in the application and orientation process will result in the application being denied.

  • Review the volunteer guide and program requirements

  • Submit a waitlist request form
  • When invited, complete a full application (includes Dog Application, Dog Health Assessment Form, Pawprints Volunteer Application, two letters of reference, a copy of the dog's therapy dog registration, and a photo of the dog). Submit the completed application in person with your dog. Each application will be reviewed by the Program Coordinator and Program Veterinarian
  • Dog/handler team must pass a behavioral evaluation
  • Dog laboratory screening (throat and fecal culture)
  • Hospital Volunteer Orientation (including criminal background check, tuberculosis and immunization screening)
  • Pawprints volunteer orientation (including shadow visit of another team without your dog, orientation visit with your dog, and up to three observed patient visits with your dog).

Handler Applicant Requirements

  • Be at least 18 years old (due to the multiple demands of handling a dog and interacting with patients and families).

  • Be willing to become a hospital volunteer (includes personal interview, criminal background check, review of immunizations, tuberculosis screening, and annual flu shot).

  • Agree to undergo the handler and dog screening process.

  • Be willing to commit to two visits per month for a minimum of one year.

  • Agree to adhere to all requirements and guidelines of the Boston Children's Hospital Pawprints Dog Visitation Program. This includes agreeing to bathe and groom the dog within 24 hours of each visit.

  • Handlers must have an ability to work in a busy, complex hospital environment, be team-oriented and have strong communication skills. Volunteering for Pawprints is emotionally complex and requires the ability to separate one's own needs from those of the patients and families. The handler must learn to establish caring relationships while maintaining clear boundaries. *Please note: This is particularly challenging when the handler is a medically trained staff person or has some prior working relationship with staff (i.e., parent of a child who has received or is currently receiving care at Children's). During the volunteer period, the handler must limit interactions with Boston Children's staff, patients and families to handler duties as defined by Pawprints.

Dog Applicant Requirements

  • Dogs must be 2 years of age or older

  • Ownership of dog: The dog must be owned by the handler who will be responsible for meeting all Pawprints guidelines and who will participate in the visits with the dog.

  • Registration with a therapy dog organization (See Therapy Dog Links for more information.)

  • Be in good physical health (as determined by a licensed veterinarian) and be vaccinated against rabies and DHPP (distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, parainfluenza)

  • Complete an annual fecal and heartworm check

  • Be on year-round heartworm preventive program

  • Be on year-round flea/tick prevention program

  • Mellow, calm and gentle in a variety of environments

  • Able to reliably respond to basic obedience commands (sit, down, come, stay)

  • Enjoys spending time with all types of people and being petted

Before you apply, please consider the following:

Participation in Pawprints involves a significant investment of time and effort on the part of all involved - volunteers, therapy dog evaluations and Boston Children's staff. We believe, however, that the potential benefits and joy that dog visitation may offer to the children and their families are well worth the effort by staff and participating dog owners. When considering whether to apply, please carefully review the Pawprints Volunteer Guide and the Volunteer Services guidelines and then carefully consider the following issues.


Time commitments include Pawprints screening, orientation, dog preparation time (grooming bathing, etc.), travel, and patient visits. All Pawprints volunteers are asked to commit to two visits per month for a minimum of one year. Pawprints Program commitments include following all Pawprints guidelines and requirements, such as behavioral and laboratory screening and primary dog health care. After reviewing all of the materials, ask yourself if you can commit to Pawprints without undue burden on your resources and schedule.


Due to the serious nature of the conditions of the children we care for, volunteering at Boston Children's Hospital is emotionally complex. It is especially important for Pawprints volunteers to be able to deal effectively with an emotionally complex environment as the owner's stress may cause the dog to become stressed. Successful volunteers are motivated to help children and families within the framework of their role and have an ability to separate their own needs from those of the patients and families - because their primary goal is to serve others. Spend time considering your motivation for volunteering and how realistic your goals are.

A therapy dog must feel comfortable and be confident in a variety of environments and situations - not just at home or at a favorite dog spot. For a dog to be well socialized, he/she must visit many places in order to have the opportunity to learn. A successful therapy dog typically has had many experiences outside his/her home environment. To determine if your dog is well socialized, review your dog's history of going to new places along with his/her reactions.


A therapy dog must have a stable, steady temperament regardless of the circumstances. Pawprints dogs must maintain a strong motivation to visit even with individuals who may inadvertently handle them roughly because of their level of ability. Pawprints dogs must be comfortable with people of all ages (from toddlers to the elderly), all ethnicities and all abilities (e.g. wheelchairs, blind, deaf).


Therapy dogs must be easily under their owners' control at all times. They  must demonstrate impeccable visiting manners - there must be no barking, jumping up or hard tugging on leashes. Pawprints dogs must respond willingly to commands given by their owners regardless of the circumstances.


Because both the dog and the owner have tasks to perform during a visit, they must be able to work as a team in order for the visit to smoothly. Teamwork extends beyond basic obedience commands - it includes your relationship, your communication with each other, and how you treat your dog as a partner with his/her own needs and preferences.

Helpful Links

Are you interested in learning more about therapy dogs? Visit these websites or read the books listed for more information.

  • Delta Society is a well-known therapy dog registry.

  • Therapy Dogs International, Inc is a well-known therapy dog registry.

  • Therapy Dogs Incorporated is a well-known therapy dog registry.

  • The Charles River Dog Training Club website lists information on CGC tests and Therapy Dog International tests (a national therapy dog registry) that are scheduled for the greater Boston area. (All dog Pawprints applicants must have a CGC certificate or registration with a therapy dog organization).

  • Caring Canines Visiting Therapy Dogs, Inc. is a non-profit therapy dog visitation program that schedules visits to facilities in the towns north and northwest of Boston. These are group visits with multiple therapy dogs and their handlers in attendance. Caring Canines provided consultative services for the Pawprints Dog Visitation Program.

  • Dog B.O.N.E.S. is a non-profit therapy dog corporation serving all of Massachusetts. This group's activities include matching facilities with certified therapy dog teams and offering therapy dog classes.

  • Wanted! Animal Volunteers by Mary R. Burch provides an excellent overview of volunteering with your pet in a variety of settings. This book was published in 2002 and should be available at bookstores or on-line.

  • Therapy Dogs Today: Their Gifts, Our Obligation by Kris Butler "explores complex professional and ethical issues that surround the environments in which therapy dogs do their jobs." This book was published in 2004 and should be available on-line.