Pawprints, supported by PetSmart Charities | Dog & Handler Application

Thank you for your interest in volunteering for Pawprints, supported by PetSmart Charities. Please review the information below about our requirements and application process.

If your dog meets our requirements and you 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 the program needs (such as dog breed, dog size, and availability).

Pawprints waitlist request form

As volunteer opportunities become available, the program coordinators will contact you to begin the screening process.

If you have any questions about the program requirements or the application process, please contact Lynn Belkin and Kristen Priven, Pawprints coordinators, at 617-355-6743 or paw.prints@childrens.harvard.edu.

 

Dog applicant requirements

General requirements

  • Dogs must be 2 years of age or older.
  • 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.
  • Dogs must be registered with a therapy dog organization (see therapy dog links listed below).

Health requirements for dogs

  • The dog must be in good physical health (as determined by a licensed veterinarian) and vaccinated against rabies and DHPP (distemper, hepatitis, parvovirus, parainfluenza).
  • The dog must have an annual fecal and heartworm check.
  • The dog must be on year-round heartworm prevention.
  • The dog must be on year-round flea and tick prevention.

Temperament

  • mellow, calm, and gentle in a variety of environments
  • able to reliably respond to basic obedience commands (sit, down, come, stay, leave it, drop it)
  • enjoys spending time with all types of people and being petted

Handler requirements

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. The handler must also be:

  • at least 18 years old
  • willing to become a hospital volunteer (includes a personal interview, criminal background check, review of immunizations, tuberculosis screening, and annual flu shot)
  • agree to undergo the handler and dog screening process
  • 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 Pawprints Program, including regular bathing and grooming of your dog
  • an ability to work in a busy, complex hospital environment, be team-oriented, and have strong communication skills.

Application process

  • submit a waitlist request form
  • receive invitation for phone interview with one of the coordinators
  • complete a full application, including health and behavioral information for the dog
  • attend meet-and-greet with Pawprints program coordinators

Dog behavior evaluation

  • screening through Volunteer Services and Occupational Health Services (for handler)
  • receive hospital-based medical clearance (throat and fecal exam for dog)
  • handler shadow opportunity with current dog/handler team
  • program coordinators will be in touch throughout the process to make sure this is the right fit for all involved
  • The Pawprints application process can take up to six months. Failure to pass or complete any requirement in the process will result in the application being denied.

Before you apply, please consider the following

Commitment

Participation in Pawprints involves a significant investment of time and effort on the part of all involved. Time commitments include Pawprints screening, orientation, dog preparation time (grooming and bathing), travel, and patient visits. Pawprints 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.

Service

Due to the serious nature of the conditions of the children we care for, volunteering at Boston Children's 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 — because their primary goal is to serve others.

Socialization

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 they must visit many places. A successful therapy dog typically has had many experiences outside their home environment. To determine if your dog is well socialized, review your dog's reaction to going to new places.

Temperament

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 handle them roughly because of their level of ability. Pawprints dogs must be comfortable with people of all ages, all ethnicities, and all abilities.

Control

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

Teamwork

Because both the dog and the owner have tasks to perform during a visit, they must be able to work as a team for the visit to be successful. 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 their own needs and preferences.

Helpful links

For more information about therapy dogs, visit these websites: