Call the PET office at (858) 756-4117 ext. 322 for more information.

Read PET Success Stories!

Special thanks to Ken and Carol Schultz, Promises 2 Kids, and the Menard Foundation for helping to make PET visits possible

Thank you to our PET Military Program Sponsor
Ashford University

Bringing unconditional love through human-animal interaction

The Pet Encounter Therapy (PET) program brings the unconditional love and tactile benefits of animals to people in a variety of settings – skilled nursing facilities, children’s shelters, hospitals, psychiatric units and many more. Groups also have the option to visit the Center for on-site programs.  Staff and volunteers take dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and guinea pigs to visit more than 50 facilities a month, with many organizations on our waiting list. Studies document that holding and caressing an animal provides benefits such as relaxation, lower blood pressure, improved long- and short-term memory, and sensory stimuli.

Animals often bring out the best in people. They can calm hyperactive children or stimulate movement and interaction in those with physical disabilities. During our pet visits, we've seen movement from unresponsive patients or heard words spoken for the first time - all to the amazement of fellow residents and staff members. Find out more about Pet Encounter Therapy. Call 858-756-4117 x 322 or visit Helen Woodward Animal Center at 6461 El Apajo Road in Rancho Santa Fe.

Frequently Asked Questions about PET

What are the benefits of animal-assisted therapy?
The program provides opportunities for people with special needs to experience the benefits of human-animal interaction. Along with being enjoyable for the people we visit, the interactions can also provide stress reduction, relaxation, lowered blood pressure, increased attention span, increased memory recall, and improved self esteem. Benefits for the PET animals include a work schedule of one hour each day with the next day off, the love of hundreds of people and the best care and housing available. Benefits for our volunteers and staff are the satisfaction of truly touching the lives of the people we visit.


What animals do you use in the PET program, and where do they come from?
We have a large variety of animals -- from dogs and cats, to rabbits, guinea pigs, snakes, and birds -- working with volunteers in our program. Many of our volunteers use their own animals in our program while others, who may not have an appropriate animal at home, use the small animals housed at the Center for this purpose. Most of these small animals come from backgrounds of neglect or abandonment and are rehabilitated into the program. Only animals that enjoy the work are accepted into our program.


What type of facilities does the PET program visit?
We visit any facility that has a client population that can benefit from animal interactions. Currently, we travel to psychiatric hospitals, skilled nursing centers, Alzheimer's units, emergency children's shelters, adolescent behavior centers, senior centers , and hospital sub-acute units.
How is your program funded?
We depend on private donations, like the rest of the Center, to fund our program. Very little revenue is generated by PET because we offer our services free of charge to non-profit facilities and charge only a $20 to $40 fee per visit for other facilities. (Revenues generated only pay about one-twentieth of the department's operating budget). Currently, we have a long waiting list of facilities to visit and need additional funding before we can expand our service. Donors or corporate sponsors can sponsor a facility for the year, an animal in the program or support the program for an entire year, or more.
What type of dog makes a good therapy dog?
Any type of dog whether it is purebred or a blend. The important thing is that the dog loves people and is socialized and trained well enough to enjoy and behave in new and strange surroundings. We do like the dogs to be at least 1 - 1/2 years of age and altered.
How can I volunteer in the program?
If you would like to be a PET volunteer, call the PET program at (858) 756-4117 ext. 322. You will start the process by attending a Center orientation. After the orientation a PET staff member will contact you to discuss the program and to make sure this is the right match. Next you will attend a training session and then accompany the PET manager on your first few visits. We ask our volunteers to work at least one three-hour shift each week with a 6-month commitment.
Can I enroll my dog into the program?
Yes. Once you have completed your training, the PET staff will test your dog to ensure that they are the right fit for the program. The test will expose your dog to situations he will encounter on visits and make sure your dog is capable of handling these interactions. Your dog will also need to be screened by your vet for any health issues as well as to verify current vaccines. Once your dog is through this process, he will receive his badge and be welcomed into the program.
How can my family member, who lives in a senior center, receive a visit?
If you feel your family member and his/her fellow residents would benefit from our program, please have the activity director of that facility call our Center for further details, (858) 756-4117, extension 322.