Joining Dogs on Call

Two medical professionals wearing scrub covers smile while holding up a tiny, tiny multipoo Dogs on Call dog."Phoebe and I are long-timers, but there are things I will never get used to. When patients and staff tell us, ‘you made my day,’ it’s always given me goose bumps and probably always will. Volunteering through Dogs on Call has been the most rewarding experience I’ve had in my volunteer life." – Marcia & Phoebe

The Dogs on Call program is unique in that there are no membership dues or application fees for joining Dogs on Call (DOC).

While Dogs on Call volunteers are responsible for the care of their dogs and their dog’s therapy dog training and registration, the Center for Human-Animal Interaction provides everything else required to volunteer (thanks to our sponsors):

  • The Dogs on Call gear that you and your dog need to volunteer in the hospital;
  • Free volunteer parking at the VCU Medical Center and many other VCU Health locations; 
  • A supply of trading cards featuring your Dogs on Call dog, replenished as needed; and,
  • Additional supports including quarterly volunteer meetings, a weekly volunteer newsletter with updates on the program, and continuing education to help you and your dog have the very best experience in the hospital

A mixed breed dog with white fluffy fur smiles happily“Missy and I were completing visits when a nurse approached us and asked us to visit a floor that was having a 'really hard day.'  When we arrived, Missy immediately got to it, spreading her love and providing moments of respite to teary-eyed staff. As I watched her do her magic, I knew that this was exactly where we were supposed to be.” – Tracy & Missy

If you believe that therapy dog work is right for you and for your dog, review the following steps and contact us!

Step 1: Training and Health Requirements

All Dogs on Call teams must be registered with either Pet Partners (PP) or with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD). If you choose registration with ATD, your dog will also need to complete the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification. For a quick description of each, take a look at our Accepted Therapy Dog Organizations.

Once you have completed the process of registering your dog as a therapy dog, email us a copy of your registration (if you registered with ATD, remember to also send us your CGC certificate). We will provide you with a Team Information Form and Health Verification Form to complete and return.

We are also happy to reach out to your veterinarian and request that they complete the Dogs on Call Health Verification Form for your dog. All you need to do is provide your veterinarian’s name and contact information.

A golden retriever sits at the side of a hospital bed as a patient reaches over the side of the bed to pet him.“It doesn’t matter if it is a patient, family member, nurse, doctor, staff, or researcher, and it doesn't matter if is in a hospital room, waiting room, elevator, or hallway. I've learned that each visit is meaningful and important for that person, in that moment. And honestly, Homer has so much love that he doesn't even care whose petting him and giving him attention. It's a win-win for everyone.” - Susie & Homer

Step 2: Handler requirements 

The next step to joining Dogs on Call is for you to be cleared to volunteer at VCU Health. We will put you in touch with VCU Health’s Volunteer Services, who will provide the necessary volunteer orientation. Once you have completed the requirements set forth by Volunteer Services, Volunteer Services will inform us and we will reach out to you about the final step! 

A smiling Welsh Corgi Dogs on Call Therapy Dog is smiling as a child dressed in full doctor garb also smiles alongside her"As a cancer survivor who has benefited from the ‘other end of the leash’, I can testify that a therapy dog visit made such a big impact on me that I committed to pursuing the work. I’m so fortunate to have my sweet Cassie to share with others, since I know personally the difference she can make." - Donna & Cassie  

Step 3: The Dogs on Call Shadowing Process

Next, we will send you a copy of our Dogs on Call Volunteer Manual. Upon reviewing the manual and signing an agreement to follow them, you will complete a series of three or more shadows. The number of shadows is dependent upon both you and your dog’s comfort levels in a hospital setting, your desire to get extra practice, and any observations made by a member of our staff.  Generally speaking, the three shadows look like this:

  1. You shadow a current Dogs on Call team without your dog. 

  2. You and your dog do a practice visit in West Hospital with our staff present to support you.  You can do as many of these as you'd like.

  3. You and your dog visit in the hospital with a member of our staff accompanying you.

Specifically, the final shadow will be with patients, staff, and visitors in the hospital! During this shadow you will be assessed based on your adherence to Dogs on Call policy and procedures, and your dog’s level of stress to ensure that they do not find the work overwhelming.

Once you have successfully completed all three of these steps, congratulations and welcome to Dogs on Call!  We are happy to have you in the Dogs on Call family.