The Power of the Paw

Polk County pets and their service-minded owners provide a special kind of friendship to those who need it most.

There are some things pets can do that humans, well, just can’t. The unconditional love offered by a furry, four-legged friend can make almost anyone feel better, and a volunteer program in Polk County is using that “power of the paw” to make a big difference with a special population.

Innovators at hospice group VITAS Healthcare® were looking for unique ways to improve the end-of-life care they provide when they introduced a new volunteer program called “VITAS Paw Pal® Volunteers.” Based on the belief that pets offer comfort and a special kind of friendship that aids quality of life, the Paw Pal program relies on the kindness of its community members to volunteer their animal friends to those in need of love.

These affectionate animals – and their compassionate owners – are trained to provide warmth and cheer to anyone who needs it. VITAS Paw Pal volunteers often find themselves visiting patients in nursing homes, assisted living communities and private homes. Offering patients a welcome distraction from illness, these pet visits may give a little lightheartedness to those facing a most difficult time – even helping them to feel less lonely. Many pet owners say they leave their patients smiling and more at ease.

The therapeutic use of pets is gaining more attention than ever, as its measurable benefits earn it widespread acceptance from charitable organizations and health providers. With increasing research in this fascinating field – it even has an acronym; HAI research (Human–Animal Interaction research) – the study of the association between pet caregiving and physical and mental health only seems to be gaining momentum.

While studies confirm that hospice patients are noticeably more active and responsive during and after animal visits, hospice teams, patients and families say they can see the change right before their eyes – as the pets produce a lift of spirits only the power of the paw can bring.

Become a VITAS Paw Pal® Volunteer today!
If you’re the owner of a friendly, well-behaved pet and you’d like to make a difference in your Polk County community, complete a simple yet comprehensive training program to become a registered VITAS Paw Pals volunteer. All potential volunteers, and their human companion, are also screened. For more information, please call (863) 583-7100 or search for Paw Pals online at


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