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Pet VIP Therapy & Visitation

Pet VIP Teams bring smiles and love

If there is anything we understand at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, it’s the strength and importance of the human-animal bond. Anyone who has gazed into a dog’s eyes when they were stressed or sat with a cat when they were sad knows the effect pets can have in our lives.

Through HSSA’s Pet VIP Therapy and Visitation Program, we share this unconditional love with those who need it most. Our teams bring their trained and certified pets to people of all ages in more than 80 facilities, such as convalescent homes, hospitals, mental health centers, hospices, children’s facilities and schools. Pet visitation is a wonderful and vital therapeutic mode of promoting and maintaining wellness in our community.

Our pet visitation volunteers witness the emotional and psychological benefits of this therapy with each visit. Studies show that contact with an animal lowers blood pressure, decreases cholesterol levels, reduces anxiety, boosts the immune system, decreases aggression and increases socialization and communication.

Now Offering Virtual Pet VIP Visits

HSSA's Pet VIP Teams are now available for virtual Pet VIP visits! The need for the unconditional love, support, and acceptance that is provided by our amazing Pet VIP therapy teams is rapidly increasing. Unfortunately the current circumstances we all face on a daily basis, with social distancing, wearing protective gear, and using caution in our daily interactions, many of the facilities we normally offer our support through regular visitations have taken protective measures to ensure the safety of their clients and avoid any visitations. The Pet VIP therapy and visitation program is offering virtual visitations via Zoom online conferencing to anyone who needs a 15 to 20 minute visit from one of our wonderful Pet VIP teams.

  • Read to a dog

  • Follow along as a story is being read

  • Storytelling

  • Leisurely chatting

  • Games

  • Crafts

  • ...and more

To schedule a 15 to 20 minute virtual visitation, please fill out the VIRTUAL Pet VIP Visit form below. A device such as a laptop, desktop, tablet, or smart phone with a working microphone and camera are required. Your device must have access to an internet connection.

*Special note: Therapy teams are not psychiatrists or psychologists. The teams provide comfort, support, and company through the use of their loving pets. We do not provide psychiatric services. Please consult your medical team if you are in need of a psychiatrists or psychologists.

"I'm so glad this service is available. My little ones used to visit the library for the "Read to a Dog" events. Since it's been cancelled, we haven't been able to interact with pets and that's how we came across HSSA and the virtual visits. We really appreciate the opportunity you guys created! We loved reading stories with Molly and Francisco! Molly was very patient and peaceful; she instantly helped my boys become calm. We would love to schedule another visit!" - Alexis Angulo

Francisco and Molly

Request a Pet VIP Visit

Visitation is provided by a handler and a Pet VIP pet. 

If you are a facility interested in having one of our Pet Visitation teams visit, please complete the request form or contact the Pet VIP Coordinator at Pet VIP email or (520) 321-3704, ext. 153.

We cannot guarantee fulfillment requests. Requests need to be submitted at least 4 weeks in advance.

You can learn more about the different types of facilities here ».

The Pet VIP Therapy and Visitation Program is where a handler and their pet are certified to visit people of all ages in and around Southern Arizona, including places such as hospitals, nursing homes, schools, group homes, children’s facilities, etc. We screen test, train, and evaluate qualified pets and their handlers to become certified therapy animal teams. We currently have over 120 active volunteers, visiting over 96 facilities, and reach over 60,000 people each year.

In this program, handlers and therapy animals can practice Animal Assisted Activities (AAA), Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT), Animal Assisted Education (AAE) and Animal Assisted Psychotherapy (AAP). We can help you determine which program is right for you and your pet.

  • AAA is a general meet-and-greet of the public along with your animal.
  • AAT is where your animal assists a physical or occupational therapist in meeting specific measurable goals that are important to a patient’s recovery (stroke, trauma, physical injury etc.).
  • AAE is goal-directed interventions designed to promote improvement in cognitive functioning of the person(s) involved, and in which a specially trained pet-handler team is an integral part of the educational process.
  • AAP involves a Mental Health Professional working within their scope of training and experience, with an animal. The professional develops specific interventions that assist the client’s treatment goals, and are then documented.
man and girl smiling and sitting on park bench with dogs

Thanks to our generous supporters!

Thanks to a generous yearly $20,000 donation from Mel and Enid Zuckerman, the HSSA Pet VIP program continues to share the love with people throughout southern Arizona.

“Everyone in our family is a dog lover and we all treasure having dogs in our lives,” said Mel Zuckerman, “Nothing can lift the spirits better than the unconditional love and companionship of a pet.”

Thank you to Mel and Enid Zuckerman for your wonderful support!

How to be a Pet VIP

The Humane Society of Southern Arizona’s Pet VIP Therapy and Visitation Program offers pet owners the opportunity to certify pets of all species to provide visitations, as a volunteer, to HSSA-contracted facilities, specialty programs, and special events in all of Southern Arizona. All original certifications will require the completion of a six-week Pet VIP testing and training session. Our training is conducted on a quarterly basis.


To become a Pet VIP, you must be able to make a commitment to the program required volunteer visitations. We ask that our teams (handler and pet) commit to 24 visits per year, starting the date of their certification. We also ask that the team makes the commitment of attending all three training classes for certification and both testing appointments.


While pet owners of all species attend all classes, our evaluations will be adjusted for non-canine species.


If you feel your companion animal has what it takes to be a great Pet VIP, please email vzimmerman@hssaz.org or call 520.327.6088 ext. 153 further details to schedule an appointment for your team’s aptitude test.


We look forward to meeting you and your pet. Thank you for your interest in brightening the lives of so many in need!

  • Should be at least 1 year old
  • Should own dog for at least 6 months
  • MUST already know basic commands such as sit, stay, down (previous training or certifications are a plus)
  • Should be able to walk on a loose leash
  • Must be up to date on shots and be licensed
  • Should get along with other dogs
  • Should get along with children
  • Must be spayed/neutered (unless there is a health issue)
  • Must not be currently employed as a service or emotional support animal (ESA)
To become a Pet VIP, please contact the Community Canine programs Manager at Pet VIP email or (520) 321-3704, ext. 153.

Session IIII: August 2023

  • Week 1: Aptitude Test/ Sign Up for A Half-Hour Time Slot (by appointment only)
    Friday, August 3rd, 2023 between 10:00 pm and 4:30 pm

  • Week 2: Orientation & Training Class
    Friday, August 11th, 2023 from 12:00pm-3:00pm

  • Week 3: Training Class
    Friday, August 18th, 2023 from 12:00pm-3:00pm

  • Week 4: Training Class
    Friday, August 25th, 2023 from 12:00pm-3:00pm

  • Week 5: Final Evaluation/ Sign Up for A Half-Hour Time Slot (by appointment only)
    Friday, September 1st, 2023 between 10:00 am to 4:00 pm

  • Week 6: Pet VIP Graduation Ceremony (Handlers, Pets, and Guests)
    Friday, September 8th, 2023 from 11:00 am to 12:00 pm. Pet VIP Round up 12:00 pm to 2:00 pm

*Classes may be cancelled if there are fewer than four participants in the class

Have questions?

You can find the answers you need in our Pet VIP FAQ above. If you still have questions, please contact the Community Canine Programs Manager at Pet VIP email or (520) 321-3704, ext. 153.