Tar Heal Paws

Tar Heal Paws is an animal assisted activities and therapy program that delivers support and companionship for patients and visitors at UNC Hospitals. The purpose of this program is to provide patients, family members and staff at UNC Health Care System the opportunity to interact with animals, and in so doing, reduce stress associated with hospitalization.

Benefits of Pet Therapy

The dogs are a welcome distraction and help reduce anxiety that can accompany hospital visits. Tar Heal Paws gives patients the opportunity to interact safely with our volunteer dogs and receive their unconditional love and acceptance in the hopes of making the hospital environment more comfortable and less stressful.

Additional benefits of pet therapy are:

  • Positive therapeutic experiences that help minimize the stress of the hospital environment
  • Reduced anxiety and enhanced coping skills by providing a distraction from illness and hospitalization
  • Increased normalization of the hospital experience by making it more "home-like"

Team Training

Our pet therapy teams consist of one volunteer and one dog who commit to an extensive training process in order to receive certification. Sometimes teams include staff members and an additional volunteer liaison for support.

The training process can be labor intensive in the beginning to become a Tar Heal Paws team, but the rewards are tremendous. In addition to being Pet Partner certified, dogs must undergo annual veterinarian exams, and be up to date with their immunizations. All owners will undergo a shadowing and mentoring process before becoming a Tar Heal Paws team.

  • We ask that volunteers commit to at least two visits per month.
  • Volunteers must be 18 years old and have earned a high school diploma or GED.

How to Apply

  1. First, become a Pet Partner, our outside certifying organization.
  2. Once you are certified and trained, complete an online application.
  3. On the application, under Volunteer Service Areas Preferred, please enter Tar Heal Paws in order to be considered for this specific program.
  4. Once your application has been submitted, you will be provided a link to complete a prerequisite online compliance tests. You must complete the online prerequisite module before you can attend orientation.

  5. Attend the orientation session
  6. Complete the immunization form (provided by volunteer coordinator)
  7. Interview with your volunteer coordinator to discuss your volunteer placement and indicate which hospital location you prefer to volunteer as a pet therapy team - Medical Center or Hillsborough Campus
  8. Turn in all required paperwork

Apply Today

After reading the requirements, you may apply to the Tar Heal Paws program through our online application.

Featured Tar Heal Paws

  • Buddy and Poe

    Fourteen years ago, J.R. Poe, a UNC Hospitals volunteer, learned about dog therapy while visiting a sick friend in the hospital. He hasn't looked back since, providing pet therapy first with Scooter, a Shetland Sheepdog, and today with Buddy, a gentle, eight-year-old Border Collie.

    Read More

  • Tar Heel Paws Team Whiskey

    By rescuing Whiskey and giving her a second chance, Silvia Kreda, PhD, lung researcher at the School of Medicine, and Preston Parker are helping patients and families during illness and recovery.

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  • Tar Heel Paws Team Pippin

    Rita Bigham spent 19 years as an elementary school teacher in Carrboro. Today, with the help of her dog, Pippin, she is lifting the spirits of patients and UNC Hospitals staff as a volunteer in the Pet Therapy Program.

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  • Tar Heel Paws Team Brady

    Brady, an eight-year-old, 80-lb. Labrador Retriever, has a calm disposition. He enjoys long walks when the weather has cooled down and will do anything for a treat. When he’s not at home greeting his family at the door, he’s making rounds at UNC Hospitals, visiting patients as a therapy dog.

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