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Pet Assisted Wellness Services (PAWS)

The Pet Assisted Wellness Services (PAWS) program, in alignment with the healing mission of Providence Health & Services, is to share the unique benefits of the human-animal bond with patients, visitors and staff.
“The human-animal bond is a unique, mutually beneficial relationship between people and animals; it has a major impact on the health and well-being of both. This includes, but is not limited to, emotional, psychological, and physical interactions of people, animals and the environment.” – American Veterinary Medical Association’s Committee, 1998                  
PAMC PAWS: offering comfort to the people of Providence since 1998
“PAWS volunteers are committed to ensuring the ethical treatment, health and safety of their animals and the patients, staff and visitors they serve.” – PAMC PAWS Program Founder Mary Troll
In 1998, under the direction of PAWS founder Mary Troll, PAMC launched an animal assisted wellness pilot program offering “therapy dog” visits in The Children’s Hospital at Providence.
With the support of the hospital, Mary created the foundation for an enduring, standards-based animal assisted wellness program of great quality. After seven years of exploring compassionate canine connections “one heart, one paw print at a time,” PAMC established PAWS as an official program in 2006 with Mary serving as the program’s first full time coordinator.
Over the years, PAWS has grown from three pilot teams in one area of service to twenty-eight registered therapy dog teams regularly serving patients, visitors and staff throughout PAMC.
PAWS program growth has been impressive, reflecting tremendous interest and commitment both here at the hospital and in our community. In the first seven years of visiting, program exploration was slow but steady; pilot therapy dogs and their handlers made a total of 48 contacts. In 2010, the program had grown to 13 active teams and over 3100 people were served. Laure MacConnell began serving as the interim PAWS program coordinator in December 2011, and was hired by PAMC in April of 2012. In 2013, PAWS enjoyed over 12,500 compassionate canine connections in 15 different service areas here at PAMC.
PAWS is here to stay – we’re 28 therapy dog teams strong and still growing; two new therapy dog teams are currently onboarding and will be joining the PAWS program in the near future!
Why do we bring therapy dogs into a health care facility?
“Since the dawn of civilization, humans and animals have shared a powerful bond. Through the ages, this bond has been a source of solace and relief for those who suffer from physical or emotional pain.”  - American Humane Association, 2014
Animals can create a sense of calmness in a complex environment, such as a hospital setting. Patients, visitors and family members often welcome the distraction away from anxious waiting or anticipated medical procedures. Animal assisted therapy engages dog/handler teams in goal directed therapy sessions supervised by expert clinicians. Often, blood pressure decreases and an individual’s sense of well-being increases when touching, talking to and hugging a dog during a simple social visit or activity. Therapy dogs and their handlers also offer PAMC staff respite. It’s not uncommon for PAWS teams to hear “Thank you for coming, this made my day!”
What do PAWS volunteers presently do?
Over the years, PAWS has grown from three pilot teams in one area of service to twenty-eight registered therapy dog teams regularly serving patients, visitors and staff throughout PAMC. As available, PAWS therapy dog/handler teams are scheduled for visiting sessions via the PAWS Coordinator in collaboration with PAMC clinical staff.
PAWS service areas include:
We truly appreciate our teams and their generous gift of selfless service to others. In 2013, PAWS enjoyed over 12,500 compassionate canine connections here at PAMC; all thoughtfully provided by our two and four-legged volunteers – that’s a lot of purposeful pup-ticipation!
Can I bring my pet to Providence too?
All of our pets are special to us, and they rely on us to make good decisions regarding their well-being. Currently, PAMC has a “no personal pets” policy.  Here’s why: Not every pet is comfortable in a hospital setting, nor has the required health, training or temperament to be successful in a medical care environment. Animals in distress can increase stress levels in others, rather than reduce them. With great respect for the health and safety of all concerned; PAMC asks our patients, visitors & staff to please leave all personal pets at home.
What kind of training do PAWS volunteer teams receive?
Only active PAWS volunteer teams may offer “therapy dog” services at Providence. PAWS volunteers say they find training with their canine partners to be rewarding and dog-gone good fun! Each step of the process strengthens your relationship with your pup. Currently, prospective handlers are initially trained via Pet Partners® (formerly known as Delta Society). Introductory training covers minimum requirements for becoming a therapy animal handler, with an emphasis on proactive handling skills and safe, ethical visiting practices.
Before completion, there is a screening process to evaluate the skill and aptitude of both the dog and handler as a team. Advanced PAWS training begins after registered Pet Partners® teams are interviewed by the PAWS Coordinator and onboarded by PAMC as official PAWS volunteers. “Pet Partners® trains the handler, the handler trains the dog, and PAWS trains the teams.”
Interested in Volunteering with your Dog?
Thank you for thinking PAWSitive! Animal Assisted Interactions (AAI) offers a growing volunteer service opportunity for people & pups. Join the fun and give to your community via “pup-ticipation” in PAMC’s Pet Assisted Wellness Services (PAWS). Please click here to access our welcome letter with more information on how to get started!
Already registered with Pet Partners? Here’s what’s next:
Set up an initial interview with PAWS program coordinator Laure MacConnell. If PAWS is a good fit for you and your partner, you will need to complete and submit a PAMC Volunteer Services application
We'd love to hear from you!
Your medical team can request pet assisted wellness visits through the PAWS coordinator. If you are interested in learning more about scheduling a PAWS team, or training to volunteer with your own dog, please contact PAWS Coordinator Laure MacConnell at 907.212.2681 or
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