Children's Hospital Colorado

Prescription Pet Program

A volunteer prescription pet visits a teenage patient at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Cuddling a friendly pup can help kids feel more at home during their healing process. The Prescription Pet Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado allows trained volunteers to bring their dogs on rounds through our patient rooms and common areas.

How the Prescription Pet Program works

Our Prescription Pets include pooches of all sizes and many breeds. These special canines and owners complete a screening process with a veterinarian before joining the program.

Every dog visits Children’s Colorado at least twice a month. Prescription Pets currently visit children at Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, our hospital in Colorado Springs and KidStreet in Denver. Altogether, our generous human and animal volunteers make hundreds of visits to kids each year.

We’re always seeking more volunteers so we can visit more locations more often.

Leading the pack

Since launching in 1984, the Prescription Pet Program has brought joy to thousands of patients and families. As the first program of its kind in the nation, it’s also inspired dozens of similar programs throughout the country.

A growing body of research supports the role of animals in the healing process. Animals can help kids feel happier, calmer and more comfortable in the hospital, especially if they miss their own pets at home. At Children’s Colorado, our kids, families and volunteers see the impact every day.

About the Prescription Pet Program

Also known as Rx Pets, the Prescription Pet Program allows specially-trained volunteers to bring their dogs on rounds at Children’s Colorado locations. These social visits allow patients to feel a little more at home while they’re in the hospital, especially if they’re missing their own pets. Thanks to the time, generosity and care of their masters, our prescription pets give kids and teens the chance to pet, hug and cuddle a friendly pup as part of their healing process.

In order to volunteer, these special canines and their owners must pass a vigorous screening process with a veterinarian. Once approved, they visit our hospital at least two times per month, bringing smiles to patients, families and visitors in both patient rooms and in common areas of the hospital.

Our prescription pets include pooches of all sizes and many breeds. Up to 70 of these dogs and their owners are part of the Program at any given time.

Meet just a few of these caring canines:

FAQs about the Prescription Pet Program

Which locations do the prescription pets visit?

Currently, prescription pets visit patients at our locations on Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, our hospital in Colorado Springs and KidStreet in Denver.

We’d love to visit more locations, and more often! Please help us spread the word so we can recruit additional volunteers.

How can patients request a visit from a prescription pet?

Patients can request a dog visit by calling the volunteer office at 720-777-6887 and answering a few questions. Out of an abundance of caution for our patients’ health and safety, prescription pets are not allowed in certain areas of the hospital, including where patients are on isolation or in critical care. We will do our best to accommodate your request.

How are prescription pets different from medical dogs?

While prescription pets visit patients on a volunteer basis, medical dogs in our Medical Dog Program are full time team members. (Technically, these “MDs” are part of the Child Life Department, so you might think of them as canine child life specialists.) While prescription pets provide social visits for our patients, medical dogs partner with clinical team members to help a patient achieve a health-related goal.

No matter their official role, we’re grateful for these special pups and their masters who help kids and teens in our hospital every day.

How can my dog and I apply to become part of the Program?

Thank you for your interest in joining the Prescription Pet Program! For the health and safety of our patients and team members, all potential prescription pets and their owners must pass a rigorous application, screening and training process. To learn more, please review the requirements for becoming a prescription pet.

Even if your pup doesn’t meet the requirements, we’d love to have your support as a volunteer. Learn how to become a volunteer at Children’s Colorado.

How did the Prescription Pet Program begin?

In the late 1970s, the then Director of Volunteers Fern Bechtel witnessed the positive effects of pets on patients as her son recovered from extensive surgery. She teamed up with Drs. Jan Facinelli and Jim Houchens, Denver veterinarians, and Mary Jo Cleaveland, the head nurse in our oncology unit, to establish the first dog visitation protocols.

In 1984, the very first dog visited patients at Children's Colorado under close supervision of medical staff. The hospital required a written prescription from the child’s doctor in order to facilitate a visit. Thus began the Prescription Pet Program, a treasured social activity for kids of all ages at Children’s Colorado.

Since its origin, our Program has been honored with awards including the American Hospital Award for Volunteer Excellence, the American Society of Directors of Volunteer Services Extraordinary Program Award and the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association’s Service Award.

We thank the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association, the veterinarians and each of the special people and their pups who have contributed to our Program throughout the years.

Learn more and apply to the Prescription Pet Program

To learn more about the Prescription Pet Program, call the Association of Volunteers at 720-777-6887.

If you’re interested in applying to volunteer with your dog, please review the requirements for becoming a Prescription Pet. You’ll need to pass our application, screening and training process.

You can also explore other volunteer opportunities at Children’s Colorado.

Photo of a young boy smiling as he visits with a volunteer and her golden retriever in the Prescription Pet Program.

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