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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 Health. The purpose of this program is to provide patients, family members and staff the opportunity to interact with animals and reduce stress associated with hospitalization and medical intervention.

Benefits of Animal Assisted Activities

The dogs are a welcome distraction and help reduce anxiety that can accompany hospital or clinic visits. Tar Heal Paws give 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

Would My Dog Make a Good Therapy Dog?

Great Question! Does your dog like being around new people? New surroundings? Is your dog calm and relaxed? Tar Heal Paws is a team endeavor and it has to be right for both human and dog. Take your dog to places like restaurants, farm, pet and home improvement stores and see if he/she enjoys the experience. You can even take your pup to nursing homes prior to trying out the hospital. Hospitals are noisy and unpredictable environments and are not for every dog. Evaluate how your dog does around these types of places to determine whether being a Tar Heal Paw is right direction for you and your dog.

Team Training

Our teams consist of one volunteer and one dog who commit to an extensive training process. To become a Tar Heal Paw, you need to have your own trained and registered therapy dog. We accept teams registered with: Pet Partners, Therapy Dogs International (TDI), Dogs With a Purpose, Love on a Leash and Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD).

The training process can be labor intensive in the beginning to become a Tar Heal Paws team, but the rewards are tremendous. Dogs must be up to date with their annual veterinarian exams and immunizations. All Tar Heal Paws teams undergo a shadowing and mentoring process at UNC Medical Center before visiting patients on their own.

  • We ask that volunteers commit to at least two visits per month.
  • Plan to volunteer at least a year.
  • Volunteers must be 18 years old.

How to Apply

  1. First, become registered with one of the above pet therapy organizations. These organizations can also help you determine whether you and your pup would make a good therapy animal team.  You will need to show proof of registration to become a Tar Heal Paw.
  2. Once you are trained and registered, complete our Application.
  3. After your application has been submitted, you will receive an auto-reply with a link to complete online compliance modules, an online orientation and a $15 background check. 
  4. After these are completed, you and your pup will interview with the Tar Heal Paws coordinator.
  5. At this interview, bring your completed immunizations including the COVID-19 vaccine and TB test. Volunteers are responsible for obtaining any required immunizations. This Checklist indicates all of the vaccines that are required to volunteer.  Alternatively, you may have your medical provider complete the Physician Verification Form as proof of vaccination. A Two-Step TB Test or TB blood test (IGRA) less than 12 months old is required. Volunteers must get a Flu Vaccine annually. 
  6. Your pup also needs to have a completed UNC Tar Heal Paws Immunization Form.
  7. At your interview, you will discuss which hospital location you prefer to volunteer as a pet therapy team - Chapel Hill or Hillsborough Campus. We also have teams at the UNC Center for Rehabilitation Care (CRC), UNC Hospice Home in Pittsboro, WakeBrook in Raleigh and UNC Pediatrics in Raleigh.
  8. Start volunteering and reap benefits of helping others!  We are excited to have you on our team!

Apply Today

 Currently onboarding new Tar Heal Paws! Please check out the requirements on the left and fill out an Application.

Contact Information


Phone: (984) 974-4793

Connect with us!


Make a Gift

Tar Heal Paws, welcomes support from the community through the Medical Foundation of North Carolina, Inc. a non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization.  


Featured Tar Heal Paws

  • UNC Tar Heal Paws - Sadie

    Sadie is one of the many four-legged volunteers in the Tar Heal Paws program who visit patients to help relieve the stress that can be part of hospital stays.

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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, Herbie

    Herbie, the basset hound, and his owner Lyn Filip, who is an oncology nurse at UNC Health Care, visit cancer patients as part of the UNC Tar Heal Paws volunteer program.