Pawprints, supported by PetSmart Charities | Dog and Handler Application

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

If your dog meets our requirements and you are interested in being places 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 (dog breed, dog size, availability, etc.). 

Pawprints Waitlist Request Form

As volunteer opportunities become available, the Program Coordinators will contact you in order 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 

Application Process

  • Submit a waitlist request form 
  • Receive invite to have a phone interview with one of the coordinators 
  • Complete a full application, including health and behavioral information for the dog
  • Meet-and-greet with Pawprints Program Coordinators
  • Dog behavior evaluation
  • Screening through Volunteer Services and Occupational Health Services (for handler)
  • Hospital based medical clearance (throat and fecal exam for dog)
  • Please see video above for more information
  • 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 invloved

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.

Handler Applicant Requirements

  • Be at least 18 years old.

  • 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 Program. This includes regular bathing/grooming of your dog.

  • 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.

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, leave it, drop it).

  • 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.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 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 his/her own needs and preferences.

Helpful Links

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

Local Therapy Dog Organizations

National Therapy Dog Organizations