Inspiring Animal Assisted Therapy Stories

Therapy Dogs in San Diego Reach New Heights

Animal Assisted Therapy Dog Pilot and Wheelchair

Helen Woodward Animal Center is a place where people help animals and animals help people. One of the best examples of this is our Pet Encounter Therapy (PET) program, which pairs kind-hearted animals with people in need of comfort. PET pets and volunteers visit facilities across the region, including emergency children’s shelters, skilled nursing centers, Alzheimer’s units, psychiatric hospitals, adolescent behavior centers, veterans’ centers and more, often free of charge. The results can be simply amazing.

You’re about to meet two extraordinary dogs in our PET program. One shows how animals can help heal people in ways humans can’t. The other proves that taking a chance on a special-needs pet can pay off in ways you couldn’t imagine.

Animal Assisted Therapy Elevates Hospice Care

Hudson Animal Assisted Therapy


Miracle on the Hudson

Any given week, you will find Hudson – a 9-year-old Italian Greyhound – and his human co-pilot, Bob, visiting senior care facilities around San Diego. Hudson has the gentlest eyes you’ve ever seen and the patience of a saint, making him perfect for these types of assignments. Bob wrote to us about one patient’s recent encounter with Hudson that was so moving, it left everyone in tears.

Bob’s Letter:

“About a week ago we were visiting Hospice patients at a large hospital, when we entered the room of a tall, fragile, elderly gentleman, motionless on the bed, eyes closed, and surrounded by his family.  We were welcomed in and asked by his daughter if it would be OK to place Hudson on the bed, adding that her dad always loved dogs.  I laid Hudson at her dad’s side, letting him snuggle gently.  After several moments Hudson raised his head looking for attention, and then softly rested it on the gentleman’s hand.  Almost immediately, the man began to slowly raise his hand to pet Hudson’s head, now stretched across the man’s chest.  It was a long visit, Hudson lay content being gently scratched.  The man never opened his eyes.

Looking up at the end of the visit I was concerned when I realized that everyone around me was crying.  Outside the room, a nurse was waiting to tell me that this patient, until now, had been completely unresponsive since his arrival at Hospice almost two weeks earlier.

This memory will live with me for a very long time.  Thank you Hudson.


Hudson shows how animals have a soothing power that can’t quite be explained.

Pilot Lands the Perfect Family

“He proves you are never too old and never too damaged to do a little good in the world.” -Pilot’s mom Stacy

Pilot was “hooked” on volunteering after his first visit to a local emergency children’s shelter, according to his human mom Stacy. But this stunning 10-year-old Golden Retriever almost didn’t get his chance to shine.

Disabled Therapy Dog San Diego Pilot


Pilot broke his femur after his previous owners ran over him with their vehicle. Unable to afford the surgery bill, they left him at the pet hospital. A local dog rescue took on the case and quickly found a family for Pilot.

Unfortunately, some pre-op tests changed that. Pilot was diagnosed with severe arthritis and a degenerative joint disease. Plus, at 130 pounds, Pilot was extremely obese. The adoptive family decided they couldn’t take on a special needs dog.

No Reservations

That’s when a volunteer with the dog rescue intervened. Stacy and her husband could sense Pilot was special, so they took the Golden into their forever family. After slimming down in size and being fit for a wheelchair, Pilot was ready for takeoff.

“As part of our rescue family, he became an ambassador for our adoptable animals, attending events and helping us share the joys of owning a pet who is older or who may have special needs. It was as he worked these events, his true path became evident,” Stacy explained. “Often on his own, without any prompting, he would get up and go sit beside a toddler in a stroller, or an elderly woman in a wheelchair, or stand next to an elderly man with a cane.”

Pilot Therapy Dog San DiegoStacy knew she had to find a way for Pilot to share his gift, and thankfully, she discovered our PET program. Despite his disability, Pilot passed the entry test and was welcomed into the program. It’s hard to believe this sweet and lovable dog was nearly abandoned.

“He ‘smiles’ proudly as he wears his blue PET bandana and rolls in, decked out in his camouflage wheelchair,” Stacy said. “He proves you are never too old and never too damaged to do a little good in the world, a lesson he shares with everyone he encounters!”

Do you think your dog would be a great addition to our PET program? All breeds and blends are eligible to become therapy dogs. We prefer the dogs be at least 1 and a half-years-old and altered. Human volunteers are asked to commit to one 3-hour shift each week for six months. For more information on joining this life-changing team, call us at 858-756-4117 ext. 322.


2 responses to “Inspiring Animal Assisted Therapy Stories

  1. This is awesome! I would love to volunteer when I am a little bit older! I have always wanted to volunteer at a place like that! I even want to be a pet therapist when I grow up!

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