You can’t change the past or the present, but you can change the future.

The Prescription Pets Program at Children's Hospital Colorado


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The award-winning Prescription Pet Program (also known as RxPets) is a dog-assisted therapy and visitation program which began in 1984 as a cooperative effort of Children's Hospital Colorado and the Denver Area Veterinary Medical Society (DAVMS). Specially-trained volunteer dog owners take their dogs on rounds at Children's Hospital Colorado.

All Prescription Pet dogs have passed a vigorous screening and have been approved by veterinarians who volunteer their time. Their visits with patients can range from a few minutes to 15 minutes or longer, depending on the child's response. The dogs also assist the medical staff in the psychiatric units and, as needed, in the physical rehabilitation department.

Volunteering for The Prescription Pet Program

The Prescription Pet program is a popular program - not only with our patients, but also with community volunteers!  We currently have a waiting list of pet volunteers for the program.  But to learn more on how you can become involved in Children's Hospital Colorado Prescription Pet program or other volunteer opportunities, please contact the Volunteer Office at 720-777-6887.

Building the Prescription Pet Program at Children's Hospital Colorado

In 1978, Fern Bechtel, director of Volunteers at Children's Hospital Colorado, saw the positive effects of pet visitation on her son as he recovered from extensive surgery. She determined that the kids at Children's Hospital Colorado would benefit from a similar program and began to work toward that goal. Bechtel teamed up with Drs. Jan Facinelli and Jim Houchens, Denver veterinarians, and Mary Jo Cleaveland, head nurse of oncology at Children's Hospital Colorado, to establish the first dog visitation protocols.

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In 1984, the first dog visited the kids at Children's Hospital Colorado (one dog, 20 visits to the oncology unit) under close supervision of medical staff. A written prescription from the child's physician was necessary for a dog visit. This was the origin of the name Prescription Pet program. The pet program grew steadily. In 1990, the program received the American Hospital Award for Volunteer Excellence (HAVE). This was the first time an animal-assisted program received the award. The same year, the RxPets program was honored by the American Society of Directors of Volunteer Services with its "Extraordinary Program" award; Rx Pets won a "DAVMS Service Award" from the Denver Area Veterinary Medical Society as well.

Starting Your Own Pet Program

To obtain a copy of Children's Hospital Colorado Prescription Pet Program's protocol, please contact the Association of Volunteers at 720-777-6887.

Read an article in Life Science about the screening process for dogs.

About therapy pets

For more information about therapy pets, here is a suggested reading list:

  • Organization and Management of a K-9 Therapy Group. Root, Jacqueline. Delingers. Pub. Ltd. 1990.
  • The Good Shepherd: A Special Dog's Gift of Healing. Coudert, Jo. Andrews & McMeel. 1998.
  • Volunteering With Your Pet: How to Get Involved in Animal-Assisted Therapy with Any Kind of Pet. Burch, Mary R. Howell Book House, 1996. (Available at The Denver Public Library.)
  • Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others. Davis, Kathy Diamond. Howell Book House, 1992 (Available in Children's Hospital Colorado Forbes Medical Library, and the Denver Public Library.)
  • Companion Animals in Human Health. Wilson , Cindy C. Sage Publications, 1998. (Available in Forbes Medical Library.)
  • Therapy Dogs. How to Train and Prepare Your Pet for Therapy Work. Davis, Kathy Diamond. 1992.
  • Pet-oriented Child Psychotherapy. Levinson, Boris. 1969.
  • Yates, Elizabeth . Skeezer - Dog With a Mission . Irvington-on-Hudson , 1973.