Tar Heal Paws

Due to COVID-19, we are currently not onboarding any new volunteers.  Please keep checking back for updates. Thank you for your patience!

Stay safe and healthy!

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.
  2. Once you are trained and registered, complete our online volunteer application.
  3. On our 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 receive an auto-reply with a link to complete an online compliance test and $15 background check. You must complete these before attending our UNC Medical Center orientation.

  5. Attend an in-person orientation session. These are held monthly.
  6. Complete your immunization requirements. A Two-Step TB Test or TB Blood Test less than 12 months old is required. Volunteers must get a Flu Vaccine annually.  UNC also requires that all volunteers receive the COVID-19 vaccine and wait 2 weeks after their final dose prior to volunteering.
  7. Complete the UNC Tar Heal Paws immunization form.
  8. 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, WakeBrook in Raleigh and UNC Pediatrics in Raleigh.
  9. Start volunteering and reap benefits of helping others!

Apply Today

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

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.

    Read More

  • 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.

    Read More

  • 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.