Pet Therapy Volunteering

Pet Therapy Volunteering

Pet therapy volunteers and their dogs bring comfort and joy to the patients, families, and guests at Penn State Children’s Hospital.

Become a pet therapy volunteer

The first step is to fill out a volunteer application. Learn about the application process.

Since 2005, the Pet Therapy Program at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center has been giving patients, families, visitors, and staff the opportunity to interact with trained dogs in a therapeutic setting. The small pet therapy team at the Children’s Hospital consists of volunteers, and all dogs are owned, loved, and trained by their owners (or “handlers”).

Why volunteer?

You’ll see the immediate effects of your work in the smiles of patients, many of whom miss their own pets at home.

But you’ll bring more than just a moment of joy to a sick child. The many benefits of pet therapy include:

  • Stress relief
  • Mental stimulation
  • Improved depression and anxiety
  • Lowering of blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate
  • Positive distraction

What will I do as a pet therapy volunteer?

Handlers bring their trained and certified dogs to the hospital to visit patients, families, and visitors. Each visit is customized to meet the patient’s needs. Dogs may cuddle with patients, pose for pictures, or even get up on the patient’s bed (as long as there’s a protective sheet).

Handlers supervise and guide these visits, giving their dog commands when necessary and ensuring that the interaction is a position one for all involved.

Do my dog and I need special training?

Yes. If you’re interested in participating in the Pet Therapy Program, the first step is to register your dog with one of the following therapy dog organizations:

In addition, you should have completed 10-20 hours of documented therapy visits before applying to our Pet Therapy Program.

When can I volunteer?

Morning and afternoon shifts are available seven days a week.

Volunteers must commit to a minimum of 100 hours over a minimum of six months’ time and be available the same day and time each week.

What’s the application process?

The Pet Therapy Program is popular. Before applying, please contact Jeanne Beckley, Pet Therapy Program Co-Coordinator to check if openings are available.

Special requests for therapy dog visits can be made by contacting either Jeanne Beckley at 717-531-7630 or Cindy Brosey at 717-531-1122 to see if we have any openings.

If we are looking for volunteers, first register your dog with one of our approved pet therapy dog organizations (see above). Then, fill out an online application.

You’ll be required to attend a mandatory orientation and provide health screening and veterinary records for your pet. You’ll also meet with a pet therapy coordinator, who will evaluate your dog’s interaction with patients and guests.

Learn more about the application process.

Contact us

If you have questions about volunteering in the Pet Therapy Program, please contact Sue Espenshade at 717-531-6310.