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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 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 reduce stress associated with hospitalization.

Benefits of Animal Assisted Activities

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. Sometimes teams include staff members and an additional volunteer liaison for support.  To become a Tar Heal Paw, you need to have your own trained dog.

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 registered, dogs must undergo annual veterinarian exams with their own veterinarian, and be up to date with their immunizations. All owners will undergo a shadowing and mentoring process at UNC 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.

How to Apply

  1. First, become registered with Pet Partners, an outside pet therapy organization.  Pet Partners can also help you determine whether you and your pup would make a good therapy animal team.
  2. Once you are registered and trained, complete an online volunteer 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 an online compliance test. You must complete the online module before you can attend orientation.

  5. Attend our 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 - Chapel Hill or Hillsborough Campus.  We also have teams at the UNC Center for Rehabilitation Care (CRC), UNC Hospice Home in Pittsboro, and WakeBrook in Raleigh.
  8. Turn in all required paperwork
  9. Reap benefits of helping others!

Apply Today

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

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. Learn more about this duo in this local news feature.

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