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Animal Visitation Program

Child hugging a dog

Our Animal Visitation Program is an integral part of the patient experience. Our canine friends have an immeasurable impact on our patients, providing emotional support and easing their anxieties, increasing confidence and providing motivation to recover.

Created in 2003, our Animal Visitation Program began when the founders of Greenbelt Dog Training, Allie and Adele Lee, requested to have their therapeutic pet dog visit their son who was a patient at Children’s National. Since then, we have continued partnering with Greenbelt Dog Training to bring therapeutic dogs to our hospital, and due to a generous grant provided by PetSmart Charities©, we are working on increasing the frequency of animal visitation from monthly to daily! By the end of 2019, we will have over 30 different volunteer handlers and their canine counterparts rotating throughout the hospital, filling the hallways with wags, wiggles and wonder.

Animal Visitation at the Hospital: What to Expect

Animal visitation teams go through extensive training and education, before they even step foot in a hospital. This training prepares teams for the unpredictable nature of hospitals, and allows handlers and animals to become more comfortable. The dogs come in a range of all shapes and sizes - from tiny Jack Russell Terriers to massive Leonbergers (they can reach 150 pounds or more!), all breeds are welcome to join our volunteer community. Every dog on campus has a unique personality, but what they all have in common is a love for physical touch and affection.

Our Animal Visitation Program teams spend time in unit playrooms, hospital common areas and can often be seen performing shows in our Costco Wholesale Atrium. When a child isn’t able to get out of their rooms for a visit, the dogs come to them! Having the ability to reach as many patients as possible is extremely important, and Children’s is excited we can offer bedside visitation on many of our inpatient units.

What happens during an animal visit can vary greatly, as sessions are typically tailored to the individual needs of the patient. Dogs can sit quietly while a child focuses on petting/grooming, perform tricks or obedience commands or just offer relaxing companionship. Animal visits are a resource for the patient and they are encouraged to self-direct sessions in ways that make them feel good. Visits can last anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes depending on the need.

Contact the Animal Visitation Program

Animal visitation is currently offered at the main hospital in Washington, D.C., with further plans to expand to outpatient clinics in the near future. Our program operates through Child Life and Integrative Services. All animal visits require parental permission and authorization from a member of the medical care team. Questions about animal visitation can be directed to