VCU Health Dogs on Call program receives grant from Petco Foundation

February 24, 2017

The Petco Foundation recently awarded a $20,000 grant to Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine’s Center for Human-Animal Interaction. The grant will enable the expansion of Dogs on Call, a VCU Health program that brings community volunteers and their certified therapy dogs to visit hospitalized patients, visitors, students and staff at VCU Medical Center. Dogs on Call teams also participate in special university events such as Paws for Stress during midterm and final exams.

“The Petco Foundation grant will enable us to build our Dogs on Call team capacity to provide comfort to hundreds more patients, visitors, families and staff at VCU Medical Center,” said Sandra Barker, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry at VCU School of Medicine and Bill Balaban Chair in Human-Animal Interaction at VCU Health.

Established at VCU School of Medicine in 2001 and housed in the Department of Psychiatry, the Center for Human-Animal Interaction serves as a hub for interdisciplinary research, service and educational activities related to the human-animal relationship.

The center has received widespread coverage from international media outlets for its published academic journal articles documenting scientific evidence of reduced stress among health care professionals after brief interactions with therapy dogs, reduced anxiety and fear in psychiatric patients at hospitals after interactions with therapy dogs and reduced stress in the workplace among people who bring their dogs to work.

A 2017 survey of VCU Medical Center patients who were visited by Dogs on Call teams found that 98 percent of respondents found the visit to be helpful. More than 80 percent of survey respondents said the brief therapy dog visit made them feel more relaxed and improved their mood.

The center is currently engaged in research studies that measure the effect of Dogs on Call therapy dog interactions on coping with stress, anxiety, fear and pain prior to cystoscopy; the effect of Dogs on Call therapy dog interactions on VCU students’ ability to cope with stress; and the effect of growing up with a pet on mental health and substance abuse outcomes in college students.

Dogs On Call therapy dog Phoebe, a black maltipoo, sits on the knees of a patient in their bed. Phoebe is asleep.