Paws with a purpose program

Paws With a Purpose Program

UnityPoint Hospice's animal assisted therapy program, Paws With a Purpose, is a unique way for dogs and their owners to volunteer in the community serving the physical, social, cognitive and emotional needs of patients and families during the end-of-life process. In the hospice setting, animal assisted therapy can provide many benefits, offering distraction from pain and anxiety, decreasing blood pressure and heart rate, increasing socialization and communication, providing opportunities for sensory stimulation through physical touch, and decreasing depressive symptoms.

Animal assisted therapy visits can take place in the patient's home or at Taylor House, our inpatient hospice facility in Des Moines. When a patient requests a visit, the hospice volunteer coordinators will schedule a time and date. A volunteer dog/handler team will come to the place of residence. Visits typically last 15-20 minutes and allow the patient to interact with the dog.

All dogs are bathed within 24 hours of a patient visit, are up to date on vaccinations and medications, have undergone rigorous temperament testing, are registered therapy dogs and are insured for liability purposes. Human handlers have taken hospice volunteer training and have been screened.

Paws With a Purpose Basic Requirements

Looking for a special way to make a difference in the lives of our hospice patients and families? UnityPoint Hospice is recruiting well-trained, well-mannered dogs and their owners. Before applying to the Paws With a Purpose animal assisted therapy program, your dog should consistently perform the following commands. These should be accomplished with one command and without the use of treats.

  • Sit on command
  • Down on command
  • Stay and recall on command
  • Walk loosely on a leash without pulling, even when excited
  • Get along well with other dogs
  • Your dog should like people
  • Not be vocal (i.e.: whining or barking)
  • Your dog needs to be at least one year of age
  • Handlers must be 18 years or older
  • Dogs must be up to date on all vaccinations (we do not accept titers)
  • You must bring proof of current rabies vaccination to temperament testing
  • Dogs must be free of all skin problems
  • Prong collars and gentle leaders and retractable leashes are not acceptable
  • You and your dog must have completed a group obedience training class within the past six months

If this sounds like your dog, and you are interested in becoming an animal assisted therapy volunteer, please call 515-557-3287.  Applicants will be interviewed over the phone, and qualified candidates will be scheduled for temperament testing.