Children's Hospital Colorado

The Prescription Pet Program at Children's Hospital Colorado

In 2014, Children’s Hospital Colorado marked the milestone 30th anniversary of the award-winning Prescription Pet Program (also known as RxPets). The Prescription Pet Program (the first in the nation) is a dog-assisted therapy and visitation program that began in 1984 as a cooperative effort of Children's Colorado and the Denver Area Veterinary Medical Society (DAVMS). 

How does the Prescription Pet Program work?

As part of the program, specially-trained volunteer dog owners take their dogs on rounds at Children's Colorado. All Prescription Pet dogs have passed a vigorous screening and have been approved by veterinarians who volunteer their time. The dogs’ visits with patients can range from a few minutes to 15 minutes or longer, depending on the child's response. The dogs also assist the medical staff in the psychiatric units and, as needed, in the physical rehabilitation department. Patients can request a dog visit by calling the Volunteer Office at 720-777-6887 and answering a few questions. Dog visits cannot be requested for patients in isolation or critical care. 

Volunteering for the Prescription Pet Program

The Prescription Pet Program is a popular program - not only with our patients, but also with community volunteers! To learn more on how you can become involved in Children's Colorado Prescription Pet Program or other volunteer opportunities, please contact the Volunteer Office at 720-777-6887

Building the Prescription Pet Program at Children's Colorado

In 1978, Fern Bechtel, director of Volunteers at Children's Colorado, saw the positive effects of pet visitation on her son as he recovered from extensive surgery. She determined that the kids at Children's Colorado would benefit from a similar program and began to work toward that goal. Bechtel teamed up with Drs. Jan Facinelli and Jim Houchens, Denver veterinarians, and Mary Jo Cleaveland, head nurse of oncology at Children's Colorado, to establish the first dog visitation protocols. 

In 1984, the first dog visited the kids at Children's Colorado (one dog, 20 visits to the oncology unit) under close supervision of medical staff. A written prescription from the child's physician was necessary for a dog visit. This was the origin of the name Prescription Pet Program, which continued to grow steadily.

In 1990, the program received the American Hospital Award for Volunteer Excellence (HAVE). This was the first time an animal-assisted program received the award. The same year, the RxPets program was honored by the American Society of Directors of Volunteer Services with its "Extraordinary Program" award; Rx Pets won a "DAVMS Service Award" from the Denver Area Veterinary Medical Society as well.

Starting your own pet program

To obtain a copy of Children's Colorado Prescription Pet Program's protocol, please contact the Association of Volunteers at 720-777-6887.