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Loving Tails canine-assisted therapy program

Loving Tails is a canine-assisted therapy program that provides a holistic approach to enhancing our patients’ emotional, mental and physical well-being through interaction with dogs. This interaction also helps reduce the stress and anxiety of illness and hospitalization.

Mercyhealth is committed to providing this canine-assisted program to our patients and their families to enrich their overall wellness and hospital experience. The program allows patients to visit dogs in either a common location or an individual patient room. Allowing the animals access to individual rooms provides the same opportunity to non-ambulatory patients.


Prior to bringing the dog on to Mercyhealth property, the handler must provide the Volunteer Services Department with current documentation from one of the following organizations showing the dog has successfully completed training to become a therapy dog:

  • Alliance of Therapy Dogs or Therapy Dogs International
  • Forest City Dog Training Club. This club is an approved training facility for dogs to become certifiable. Financial assistance by Mercyhealth Development Foundation is available for annual re-certification classes. Please contact Volunteer Services at 815.971.0674 for more information.

Home-based and care center therapy animals are not allowed to service hospital facilities, and vice versa.

Requirements for handlers

Handlers are regarded as Mercyhealth volunteers and shall abide by the same application and screening process, orientation and competency requirements as required by Volunteer Services. Potential handlers should contact Volunteer Services at 815.971.0674 to arrange a telephone screening interview. Potential handlers complete an online application and attend a personal interview.

Handlers must also be:

  • 18 years of age or older
  • Dependable
  • Prompt
  • Presentable
  • Conscientious
  • A good communicator

Potential handlers are subject to:

  • Criminal background checks
  • Complete required immunizations
  • Provided the potential handler is found to be suitable, they will be invited to attend a volunteer orientation class.

Requirements for dogs

  • Proof of therapy dog certification
  • Proof of comprehensive general liability insurance
  • Proof of current immunizations required by the State of Illinois and the county where the dog is registered
  • Inoculation and health requirements include the following: Rabies (1, 3, or 5 years), distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis and parvo-virus
  • Must be one year old or older and have lived with the handler for at least six months
  • Proficient in basic obedience
  • Confident
  • Friendly to other people and dogs and enjoy being touched
  • Exhibit a good temperament and manners
  • Predictable, reliable and controllable
  • Handle stress well
  • Visible cleanliness, no signs of fleas, ticks or hot spots
  • Must have a current health certificate issued by a veterinarian

To learn more about Loving Tails, please contact Volunteer Services at 815.971.0674.