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Pet Therapy Volunteers

Take two belly rubs and call me in the morning

More than 45 furry four-legged bundles of happiness visit patients at St. Luke’s facilities, thanks to their dedicated human companions. Whether a tiny Yorkie or a lovable Great Dane, visits from specially trained doggie friends provide cheer, brighten a stressful day, and help our patients, visitors, and staff relax.

These caring human-canine teams bring comfort and diversion for adult and pediatric patients alike. Studies show that just petting a dog causes the release of hormones that ease stress and depression and lower the heart rate.

Pet therapy volunteers give more than 2,100 hours to St. Luke’s each year. They also delight kids at the annual NICU graduates picnic, Pediatric Oncology party, and Camp Rainbow Gold.

Pet Therapy Requirements

To become pet therapy volunteers, you must be at least 18 years old and your dog must be at least one year old. You also must be a registered team with Therapy Dogs, Inc.

Volunteers undergo extensive training, and a select few experienced dogs and handlers take on additional training that qualifies them to visit cancer patients or sit with children in our pediatric emergency department. When visiting, dogs must be clean, neat, friendly, and ready to socialize. Handlers need to be personable, engage in conversation, and monitor conditions of the visit.

Frequently Asked Questions

Click each question below for its answer:

How do I start the process of becoming a pet therapy volunteer?

You and your dog must first be registered with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD): This Cheyenne, WY-based organization registers teams across the United States. ATD uses volunteer testers/observers (TOs) to ensure that new teams are prepared to visit and that the dogs are suitable for this work. Once prospective teams are tested, observed and registered, they get limited insurance that many facilities require for visiting.

What are the qualification requirements?

Your dog must be at least one year old and be known to you for at least six months before the test. You do not have to be the owner of the dog. You must have proof (from your vet) of a current rabies vaccine and recent negative fecal float. You and the dog must also pass a handling test and observations. Please review other requirements from the Alliance of Therapy Dogs.

When and where can we be tested?

In Boise, several TOs work together to offer the test and observations quarterly on a Saturday or Sunday at a local park or indoors at the Idaho Humane Society. To get on our list for the next test, please send an e-mail with your name/phone number, dog’s name, breed, or description, and age. We will contact you as the next test approaches.

What is the handling test like?

The handling test is usually done in groups, testing how the dogs respond to other dogs and other people. The dogs need to be able to walk slowly and quickly on a loose leash, be put in a stay, and handle being around wheelchairs and walkers. The testers and observers will pet and handle your dog. If you have a small dog, you will need to be able to lift it for visits. To ensure you know exactly what to expect, please review test details, including a copy of the test, at

What are observations?

Teams passing the handling part of the test must do three observed visits, usually within a few weeks after the test. At least two must be done in a medical facility. In the Treasure Valley, we commonly use Boise Good Samaritan and Apex Assisted Living. The third observation can be in a park, or in a store like Home Depot or Zamzows. Again, detailed information can be found at

What happens when we pass both the handling test and observations?

Once you pass the handling test and observations, you need to send all your documents and a check to the Alliance of Therapy Dogs. They will then send you a heart-shaped tag for your dog’s collar and a card authenticating your registration. Then, you will be able to visit several facilities in the Treasure Valley. (St. Luke's can provide you with a list).

Once we have completed all of these steps, can we visit St. Luke's?

Not yet. We ask teams to get some experience visiting other facilities first. Once you and your dog have gained pet therapy experience, please send us an email we will put you on a list for St. Luke’s training. This training is required as you need to be able to handle equipment safely and understand hospital rules and policies. We provide training one to three times a year. Once this training is complete, you will complete the St. Luke's volunteer onboarding process.