K9 On Call

The "K9 on Call" program at Sentara Leigh Hospital matches volunteer dog owners with patients who could benefit from a therapeutic visit from a dog.

About the Program

The Sentara Leigh Hospital K9 on Call pet therapy program originated from the belief that dogs offer a special therapeutic component to patients of every age that hospital staff cannot provide. Your involvement will allow you and your pet to provide comfort, healing and joy to people in need. 

  • About Pet Therapy

    Pets were initially used in a mental health facility in the 1700s, and then again by the American Red Cross in military convalescent care after World War II. Today, pets are used as therapeutic partners are a valued approach in both the hospitals, nursing homes and mental health facilities.

    Pets are the heart and soul of thousands of families in America. For many, they are like their children. Pets are used in the hospital setting to help the ease stress and anxiety of everyone — staff, visitors, patients and families. Hospitals across the nation use pet therapy to bring joy and happiness into the lives of those in the hospital.

  • Program Requirements

    As a healthcare organization, the pet therapy program has specific requirements. For the safety of the patients, their families, members of the healthcare team, and for you, we ask all volunteers to commit to the following:

    • Age: To become a member of the pet therapy program, handlers must be at least 18 years old. Dogs must be at least one (1) year old and must have lived with the handler for a minimum of six (6) months. Both handler and dog should have an interest in people and be comfortable in the healthcare setting or other visiting environments. Handlers must also have good control of, and proactive communication with their dog.
    • Certification: We require that all handlers and dogs have a current therapy certification through Therapy Dogs International (TDI).
    • Time Commitment: We ask that all handlers and dogs commit to a minimum of two visits per month.
    • Application: All handlers are required to complete a dog/volunteer team application.
    • Interview and Screening: We require the handler to complete a dog/ volunteer team application as well as have an in-person interview (handler and dog) with the Volunteer Coordinator. All dogs must be medically and behaviorally screened prior to the interview and have a statement from a licensed veterinarian that the dog meets all requirements. All volunteers are required to go through a thorough background check, provided free-of-charge.
    • Health Clearances: As volunteers, handlers are required to receive an annual tuberculosis (TB) skin test and the seasonal flu vaccine, which are provided free-of-charge. All dog volunteers are required to have current vaccinations and rabies boosters. Dogs cannot be on a raw food diet at any time during their participation in the program. Raw food diets present an increased risk of pathologic bacterial and protozoal shedding and infection that can compromise the health of our patients. Veterinarian records must be updated once per year. If your dog spends any time in a kennel or becomes ill, a release will be required to clear the dog to volunteer. Dogs must be clean and well groomed when visiting. Please ensure that the dog’s nails are kept short and refrain from using any flea and tick topical two days prior to visit.
    • Orientation & Training: Once volunteer teams are eligible, a hands-on training session will be scheduled with a current member of K9 on Call. 
    • Restrictions: Volunteers must abide by all patient confidentiality guidelines, customer service expectations and hospital policies. Dogs must be on a leash, except with obedience exercises which must be previously approved. For identification purposes, your dog must wear a Sentara Leigh Hospital volunteer badge. Dogs with a history of biting or aggression or that are trained for protection or bite work, even if part of a dog sport (e.g., Schutzhund or hunting activities), are not eligible. Dogs that have killed another pet are not eligible.

Interested in volunteering? Download our application here.