FHN Beyond Words Pet Therapy Program

As man's – and woman's – best friend joins clinical practices from cancer treatment to psychological therapy, we are pleased to offer the services of therapy dog teams at FHN. Each therapy dog team (dog and handler) must meet our strict eligibility criteria and successfully complete a nationally standardized behavioral exam administered at Carlson Canine Camp in Freeport.

The benefits of pet therapy are well-documented and have become integrated in mainstream medicine. With depression directly affecting 10 percent of us every year (indirectly impacting up to 25 percent of a community), therapy dogs like those in FHN's Beyond Words Pet Therapy program lend a strong therapeutic effect both in provider offices as well as at patients' homes.

Dogs are naturally interactive and provide relief during long days in healthcare settings, helping patients shift their focus away from discomfort or anxiety. The animals' unconditional love and attention brighten everyone's day – patients, families, visitors, and staff alike.

Medical research has shown that a visit from a therapy dog can initiate and sustain physiological signs of relaxation such as decreased blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate as well as providing encouragement and lightening the environment in physical and/or emotional therapy and rehabilitation.

The human health value of a furry friend shouldn't be underestimated!

FHN's Pet Therapy Program is brought to you through FHN Family Counseling Center.

Arrange a Pet Therapy Visit

Our dogs make regular rounds throughout various offices at FHN, and you can also request a dog to be present for specific times or treatments, such as chemotherapy sessions, a patient's birthday, or even just to make a youngster feel better about getting a shot.

If you would like to arrange a therapy dog visit, please call 815-599-6148 or make a request online below. We will confirm that your provider is comfortable with your request – there may be reasons at times that it is not appropriate for a dog to be present. We will confirm your request with you so that you know when to expect a cold nose...and a warm heart.

Arrange a Pet Therapy Visit

Join Our Pet Therapy Team

National Program Certification

Thank you for your interest in becoming part of FHN's Beyond Words Pet Therapy Program!

Our program helps patients and their friends and families, as well as FHN staff, benefit from the presence of certified therapy dogs who are naturally interactive and provide relief during long days in healthcare settings, helping patients and others shift their focus away from discomfort or anxiety.

All dogs in FHN's Beyond Words Pet Therapy Program are certified by accredited trainer Jan Carlson and Carlson Canine Camp in Freeport, Illinois. You and your dog will be certified as a team, and each therapy dog team must meet our strict eligibility criteria and successfully complete a nationally standardized behavioral exam.

It is not necessary for you and your dog to attend the therapy dog training course offered at Carlson Canine Camp if you have already been certified through an existing therapy dog program, but as a team, you must still pass the behavioral exam administered at Carlson Canine Camp.

Upon successfully passing Carlson's behavioral exam, the Carlson team will provide you with the necessary paperwork to finalize national certification for you and your dog. A form to be filled in by your veterinarian is part of this process to ensure that your dog is healthy and well cared for.

Please note that you will need to update your certification with the nationally recognized program annually (which can be done online, without any additional exams or classes) in order to continue as member of the FHN Beyond Words Pet Therapy Program. You will receive a reminder letter from us annually about this.

When you receive your confirmation packet from the headquarters of the nationally recognized program, please complete the FHN Beyond Words Pet Therapy Program Application, including a copy of the confirmation paperwork.

Join Our Pet Therapy Team

FHN Volunteer Designation

As the "human member" of your dog-and-handler team, you will also need to complete an FHN Volunteer Application (which is necessary to become a volunteer of any kind at FHN), interview with the Director of Volunteer Resources, and attend a mandatory orientation session.

You and your dog cannot visit FHN as an FHN Beyond Words Pet Therapy Team until you receive a letter of acceptance from FHN stating that your FHN Beyond Words Pet Therapy Team application has been received and approved.

Once you and your dog are part of the program, you will receive an FHN Beyond Words Pet Therapy Program leash for your dog and a tote bag for you to use in bringing along supplies for a visit (a suggested list of supplies will be provided with the bag). You will also receive an FHN badge for yourself, which you will need to have with you at all times when visiting.

The FHN Beyond Words Pet Therapy Program will also have fun activities for our members - both human and canine - some of which you may be required to attend for additional information.

Reimbursement of Expenses

In return for your much-appreciated volunteer service, once you and your dog have completed five visits (within a calendar year), FHN will reimburse you for:

  • the cost of the national certification exam ($5)
  • the cost of the entire therapy dog training course at Carlson ($110, if required for your dog to pass the exam)
  • the cost of registering for national certification ($45)

As long as you complete five visits every year, FHN will continue to reimburse you for the annual cost of renewing your national certification ($45).

A reimbursement form will be provided with your acceptance letter into the FHN program, and is also available online.

> Reimbursement Form

How Visits Are Arranged

Visits are arranged through FHN Volunteer Resources based on demand and opportunity. In addition to patient visits, we have many "ambassador opportunities" available, from parades to public events hosted by FHN. These are just as important to FHN (and count as patient visits), and we hope you will take advantage of and enjoy them!

All visits are arranged through FHN Volunteer Resources, and the program coordinator (Kay Brooks, Director of Volunteer Resources) should always know when you and your dog will be on the premises.

Types of Visits

Many handler and dog teams in the FHN Beyond Words Pet Therapy Program are expected to commit to a regular schedule since departments that want dogs to visit may have a specific purpose in mind that requires a specific frequency.

If you and your dog are not part of department that require a specific schedule or if you find that you are able to make additional visits outside your scheduled times, contact the FHN Volunteer Resources at 815-599-6148 to see if there's an unfilled request for a visit; there will be areas where therapy dog teams are always welcome.

If you are able to be an on-call volunteer (which you'll specify on your FHN Beyond Words Pet Therapy Application), we'll call you when we have identified a specific need for you and your dog.

Preparing for Your Visit

Prepare your dog for a visit by following the Visiting Guidelines sent with your acceptance letter, or download a copy here.

Please keep in mind that just as with human volunteers, dogs need time to refresh and relax between visits. A dog that is stressed can't help others relax. Unless there are special events that necessitate exceptions, dogs should not visit more than once a week.

For most dogs, it is good to plan for and stick to some level of ongoing visiting activity on a regular basis so that they retain their familiarity with FHN surroundings and requirements – and look forward to visiting.

Quick Checklist to Become a Handler/Dog Team in FHN's Beyond Words Pet Therapy Program
  • This information is covered in more detail throughout the FHN Beyond Words Pet Therapy Program section of this website, but here's a handy a checklist of actions you'll need to complete to become one of our handler/dog teams.
  • If needed/desired, complete a therapy dog training class at Carlson Canine Camp .
  • Pass the nationally-recognized therapy dog behavioral exam administered by Carlson Canine Camp.
  • Send paperwork from completed behavioral exam to the headquarters of the nationally recognized program (details provided by Carlson Canine Camp).
  • When certification confirmation is received from headquarters of the national program, submit the FHN Beyond Words Pet Therapy Program Application to FHN Volunteer Resources along with a copy of your national certification.
  • Complete the FHN Volunteer Application and interview, and attend the mandatory orientation session provided by the Director of Volunteer Resources.
  • A welcome letter packet will be sent when both you and your dog are approved for volunteer service, and you will receive identification materials and an FHN Beyond Words Pet Therapy Program leash and tote bag.
  • Also included with your welcome letter will be a form for reimbursement of Carlson class/exam expenses. If you wish to be reimbursed for testing or classes offered through Carlson Canine Camp, submit a reimbursement form to the FHN Beyond Words Pet Therapy Program Coordinator, c/o FHN Volunteer Resources at FHN Memorial Hospital, 1045 W. Stephenson St., Freeport, IL 61032 or kbrooks@fhn.org. Reimbursements will be processed twice a year, in February and July.
  • Repeat the dog certification process above annually (your certification with the nationally-recognized program can be kept current online without re-testing) – watch for our reminder letter about this!