child petting dog

Pet Pals

Pet Pals is an exciting program that brings volunteer dogs to the American Family Children’s Hospital to visit pediatric patients. Many of these children are hospitalized for extended periods with very severe diseases.

This program recruits and screens teams of volunteer dogs and their owners to visit children who are patients at the American Family Children’s Hospital (AFCH). Our goal is to provide these very special kids with safe and enjoyable visits from loving canine friends.

About the Program

Pet Pals was developed by UW School of Veterinary Medicine students, faculty, and staff.


School of Veterinary Medicine faculty and students, along with experienced Pet Pals volunteers, conduct rigorous health and behavior evaluations before eligible adult dogs are accepted into the program.

  • Pet Pals human participants receive general volunteer training at the American Family Children’s Hospital. Requirements for both human and canine volunteers are outlined in the Pet Pals application.
  • New volunteers accompany experienced Pet Pals teams before making their first hospital visits with their own dogs.
  • During visits, all Pet Pals volunteers wear royal blue shirts and vests.
  • Some volunteers participate as Visit Captains, who are members of hospital visitation teams who do not have dogs.

Pediatric patients enjoy the company of Elvis, a Pekingese dog

Patient Visits

Pediatric patients gather in the AFCH school and play areas to visit with our volunteer dogs. Some children just like to watch the dogs in action. Others love petting or holding the dogs. The volunteer dogs always seem as excited about the visits and attention as the kids do! All of the pediatric patients receive special Pet Pals trading cards from the dogs at each visit.

Become a Volunteer

The steps to becoming a volunteer are outlined in the Pet Pals application.

The extensive evaluation process is critically important to the program’s success. It is designed to assure safe and enjoyable hospital visits for both the pediatric patients and our volunteers dogs.

We realize that completing the evaluations is time-consuming and that only about 1 in 10 dogs evaluated will be invited to become volunteers.

There are other important ways to lend support to the Pet Pals program through organizational and fundraising activities.

There are also other means of volunteering your time and love to the American Family Children’s Hospital. To learn more, please contact the UW Hospital’s Office of Volunteer Services.

Thank you for your interest in our program.


c/o Linda Sullivan
UW School of Veterinary Medicine
2015 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53706