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Hospital Patients Allowed Visits From Their Own Dog

Every dog owner knows, when you aren’t feeling well, nothing quite lifts your spirits or heals your soul like a cuddle or lick from your beloved dog. A few hospitals around the country are finally starting to understand just how therapeutic they can be, and are allowing patients to get in-hospital visits from their own dogs.

Texas Children’s Hospital was one of the first to allow patients to have visits from the family pet about five years ago. A director for the hospital told ABC News why.

“When there is a patient in the hospital that will be here for a significant amount of time, we think it is important for them to have their entire family here,” said Jamie Snow, Assistant Director of Child Life and Social Work at Texas Children’s Hospital. “And some people consider their pets family members.”

An organization called PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support) Houston approached the Texas Children’s Hospital administration to help kickstart the program.

Here’s how it works: a social worker or child life specialist, hearing that a patient has a pet at home, speaks to doctors who can approve a visit. Then PAWS is contacted. They ensure that the pet is vaccinated and has a bath before the visit. A PAWS volunteer will meet the pet and family members at the entrance of the hospital where they perform a “behavior check” to make sure the pet’s temperament is good for a hospital environment. They then take the pet to the patient’s room.

Of the dozens of hospitals around the nation participating in the dog visitation program, none have reported a single negative result. In fact, results have been more than positive.

Donna Dishman, co-founder and executive director of PAWS Houston, told ABC News about the first personal pet visit. The patient was an 83-year-old woman in intensive care, diagnosed with breast cancer.

“[She] was not eating, not responding, and had given up,” Dishman said. “When we put her dog on her bed, she started talking, and started eating.”

Our dogs have a remarkable way of helping us to heal, giving us hope or something to live for. With the success of pet visitation programs already in place, and scientific evidence of the healing power of dogs, our hope is that more and more hospitals allow canine family members to visit loved ones.



  1. Falco Bedrosian

    May 22, 2015 at 6:18 pm

    Easy to see how pets would help healing

  2. Jan

    Mar 18, 2014 at 11:06 pm

    My mother-in-law, 87, has been in hospital for nearly four months. We very nearly lost her a couple of times but is now in rehab getting ready to go home. A couple of weeks ago brother-in-law was allowed to take her little dog in to see her. The door to her room was shut and she had a happy few minutes with her baby. It gave her such a boost. She can’t understand why she has to go through all this rehab stuff as all she wants is to get home to her baby. We kept explaining that she won’t be released until she can at least do the basics like go to the bathroom herself. She is so weak from her illness but is getting there. Hopefully next week, barring any more setbacks. She is in a private hospital not a state run public one.

  3. Duca

    Jan 29, 2014 at 10:20 pm

    ITS AWSOME IDEA!! Finally, the doctors realized that the pets better cure for health than what they give!

  4. Mary Lou

    Jan 29, 2014 at 5:47 pm

    I would love to see this continue to grow throughout the country. My weimaraner, Stanley, made three trips to one of our hospitals to see his “Papa” and to visit another friend. I know that when my dad saw our baby, he was so much better. I also know that Stanley was relieved to see his “Papa” and know that he would soon be coming home. Those visits clearly brightened both of their moods!

  5. Laura

    Jan 29, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Many many years ago I was in a accident that left me paralyzed from the waist down. I was do horribly depressed I would not talk to anyone not did I want to eat. I had a Shiba named Willow I loved beyond reason really. My daughter snuck her into my hospital room. when she saw me she ran over an cried ( yes she cried) an licked an licked me, This from a dog who never licked me before. I started crying an crying an cried my heart out. From that day forward I got better. I do not know where I would have been if not for that little dog. So yes your own dog can make a difference in how you get well.

  6. Christy M

    Jan 29, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    I am lucky enough to have two therapy dogs that I am able to take to visit hospital patients and nursing home residents along with special needs classes. The hospital I visit does allow personal pets to visit patients-they just don’t advertise it. If a patient’s dog is UTD on shots and healthy they are allowed brief visits. In the meantime we provide some unconditional love!

  7. Stephanie Wooley

    Jan 29, 2014 at 2:13 pm

    Nine years ago, my father was admitted for surgery in mid-November. We knew he was dying and after the surgery it was obvious that he would not be coming home. Towards Christmas, his memories would come and go. He talked randomly, usually hallucinating, but it always was about my parents dog, Butch. Butch, a 100 pound American Bulldog, was three at the time. When I visited with my father, he could not remember my name. My mom called one afternoon asking me to help her take Butch to the hospital. The admin had cleared him to go. Butch was the perfect dog in the halls and the elevator. When he walked in my father’s room, my father started crying with the widest smile and told everybody that that was his dog! Butch was equally excited. My father died two days later and that special memory will live on forever. When we wrote my father’s obit, my brother & I agreed that Butch should be listed as the first child survivor. Butch passed away last year and I hope they are running around heaven together.

    • Clyde

      Jan 30, 2014 at 7:06 am

      Wonderful story, thanks for sharing. As someone else commented, when it is time for me to go, I want to be at home with family and friends (our dogs an cats).

  8. noren Ens

    Jan 29, 2014 at 12:47 pm

    I feel that it is a wonderful idea and support it fully

  9. mj loucks

    Jan 29, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    I think a pet should be able to visit at all times. They are part of the house and a great many people only have there dog or cat so the need to get with the time and see that people need to see them and not to say no to pits just because of what they are.

  10. Lilli Love

    Jan 29, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    Mom was in the hospital recently. I was there for her every day, all day and eve. She said she couldnt have healed without me. I have done therapy for nursing homes and rehabs for three years. We just finished attending a reike class together this last week so we can have more good energy. We think all hospitals should allow our pets to help us heal. 🙂

    • Pink

      Jan 30, 2014 at 3:10 am

      Ditto. Guess I’ll choose to be at home, should I get to that point.

  11. Lacey

    May 7, 2013 at 8:29 am

    When my mom was dying from lung cancer, I wanted to bring in her dog to visit. That’s something that isn’t allowed, especially on the oncology unit. Since I work at the same hospital, I was even trying to devise a plan to have someone bring my mom outside in a wheelchair to see her fur-baby one last time. It never happened. I had to put that dog to sleep recently due to cancer. I try to be happy that they’re finally together again…

  12. Sandy

    May 6, 2013 at 12:49 pm

    When my mother-in-law was in the hospital she kept asking for my dog Enzo. It is a small hospital and there were only one or two other patients in that area at the time. We asked if we could bring him in to see her, we even offered to bring him in the middle of night so there would not be a lot of people around. We were told no, she passed away on Dec 28th, 2011. I wish the hospital staff would have allowed her that one last visit.

    • Pink

      Jan 30, 2014 at 3:09 am

      A pox on that hospital staff. Even prisoners get a last request.

  13. Kathy H

    Jul 3, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    I am a pet sitter to a handful of four legged friends, and recently accquired yet another large yorkie. The mom (owner) is an 83 year old wonderful Southern woman who was recently diagnosised with cancer of the stomach. She needed to have a portion of her stomach removed and would be in the hospital for a number of days.
    Buddie is the one of the sweetest dogs I’ve met and is so well behaved. When I spoke to his mom on the phone a week after her surgery she sounded so blue, fustrated by not being able to eat yet, and wanted to see her baby. When I hung up I thought about sending flowers, but decided on something else that I KNEW would do her more good.
    I called the hospital to see if they allowed pet visits and was overjoyed to hear a yes to my question. I immediately put up the other houseguests, brushed Buddie and made him smell good, and off we went. I didn’t tell mom first, and just knocked on her door. You should have seen her face when she saw Buddie in my arms. If she wasn’t such a proud woman she would have cried. We only stayed about 10 minutes but her hand never left Buddies fur the entire visit. She cuddled him, kissed him and reminded him how much mommy missed him. It was the best thing I have EVER done in my 57 years of life on this Earth.
    I’m going to do this every chance I get. What an awesome gift you give the pet owner, without doing anything out of the way. You make all the difference when you can create a reunion like this and know my pet owner is going to be working hard at going home this week.

    • ana

      May 6, 2013 at 2:51 pm

      I loved your story, Thanks for sharing it

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