Puppy Love: Dogs Making A Difference

The American Cancer Society launches new therapy dog program for kids with cancer; Missouri Puppies for Parole Program celebrates 7,000th dog adoption.

A new American Cancer Society (ACS) program will increase access to specially trained therapy dogs at hospitals that provide oncology services for children. The Pups Assisting with Support (PAWS) pilot grant program aims to improve the quality of life for hospitalized children with cancer.

The PAWS program has awarded these six children’s hospitals $8,000 to support their existing therapy dog programs:

therapy dogs
Lois, a 4 year old golden retriever/yellow lab mix, is the first resident dog at Children’s Hospital Orange County. (Photo: CHOC)
  • Children’s Hospital Orange County (CHOC), Orange, CA
  • Children’s National Hospital, Washington, DC
  • Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, St. Petersburg, FL
  • Norton Children’s Hospital, Louisville, KY
  • Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston, TX
  • UW Health Hospitals and Clinics, American Family Children’s Hospital, Madison, WI

“We’re excited that this new initiative allows us to focus on the unique needs of children with cancer and their families,” said Dr. Arif Kamal, chief patient office, ACS. “By supporting children during a challenging time, therapy dogs and their handlers play a supportive role in improving the hospital environment during cancer treatment and reducing suffering. It’s another way we’re working to connect with families that need additional support during their cancer journey.”

Funding during the 12-month grant period will supplement veterinary costs, adoption, training for the handler or staff members, food, grooming, beds, toys and improving or maintaining dog facilities. Collectively, the projects are estimated to impact more than 10,000 children and families impacted by cancer.

therapy dogs
Golden doodle mix Cola works at the American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison, WI. (Photo: UW Health)

From birth, therapy dogs who work full-time in children’s hospitals receive extensive, specialized training to provide goal-orientated, therapeutic interventions and emotional support. The ACS PAWS grant program fills a critical gap for institutions as animal-assisted therapy programs are primarily supported by philanthropy efforts.

Animal-assisted therapy for hospitalized children has been shown to decrease symptoms like anxiety, stress, depression, and pain, and increase quality of life indicators like feelings of joy and calmness, positive memories from hospitalization, and improved sense of well-being.

7,000th Dog Adopted Through Puppies For Parole Program

The 7,000th dog has been adopted through the Missouri Puppies for Parole program. The program, currently active in 16 prisons across the state, allows selected offenders the opportunity to become trainers of rescue dogs and earn a certificate in animal handling.

During the 10-week program, offenders teach dogs basic obedience skills and socialize them, with the goal of preparing them for adoption. Once dogs have successfully completed the program, they are placed up for adoption through their original shelters.

Puppies for Parole
Missouri Puppies for Parole celebrates the 7,000th dog adopted through the program. (Source: Royal Canin)


The program launched in 2010 following a partnership between the Missouri Department of Corrections and a statewide network of rescue organizations and shelters. Puppies for Parole is now considered one of the largest, most successful prison dog programs in the United States.¹

Supported solely by donations and volunteers, the program has achieved adoption rates higher than 95 percent. Most dogs adopted from the program go on to become family pets, while several receive advanced training and find a new purpose as service and comfort animals for children with disabilities or veterans with PTSD.

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Pet food maker Royal Canin became involved with the program due to Associate Michael Newkirk’s idea to contribute dog food that was not yet expired, but wouldn’t make it to the supply chain, to feed dogs in the program.

“The Missouri Puppies for Parole program is a true testament of Mars Petcare’s purpose of making ‘a better world for pets,'” said Daryn Brown, President, Royal Canin North America. “It has been an honor to be a part of this program, and we owe a great deal of thanks to the Missouri offenders who have helped 7,000 dogs find their forever homes.”

“We are grateful and proud of Royal Canin’s investment in Puppies for Parole since the program’s start,” said Jennifer Liebi, Puppies for Parole Coordinator. “Their contributions allow us to set our dogs up for nutritional success and support the bonds that form between the dogs, their trainers and eventual adopted homes.”

¹ Missouri Department of Corrections

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