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Community PALS

Community service through canine companionship


Making a difference, one paw at a time

We’re pleased to partner with pet pooches (and their parents) who serve their community in a variety of ways and for the benefit of many. Explore our five social, therapy, reading, comfort and comfort, crisis, peer support volunteer dog team options below, and check out our frequently asked questions if you’d like to sign up to be part of a team.

Social PALS brighten up the day by bringing smiles to those they visit in a variety of settings.

Therapy PALS are written into a patient’s treatment plan, end-of-life plan or child’s individualized education plan. Teams help by increasing motivation and improving self-confidence as well as providing comfort and emotional support when needed.

Reading PALS provide a warm, fuzzy, non-judgmental reading friend for children in schools and libraries.

Comfort PALS offer much-needed emotional support during a crisis, or following a death or traumatic time. Interacting with a PALS team helps to lower blood pressure and stabilize heart rate, facilitating a more even emotional state to cope.


Comfort, Crisis, Peer Support PALS are dispatched, by request, to visit law enforcement agencies, fire houses and various dispatcher centers.


How to become certified by PALS

  1. Attend 15-hour social, therapy and reading team training + pass 17-point evaluation to become a PALS Social, Therapy, Reading Dog Team.

  2. Attend an eight-hour comfort dog team training + pass 16-point evaluation (must be a current PALS social, therapy, reading dog team in good standing) to become a Comfort Dog Team.

  3. Complete online classes and submit certificates to PALS for comfort, crisis, peer support certification (must be a Social, Therapy, Reading Dog Team and Comfort Dog Team in good standing):

    • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – Introduction to Incident Command System, ICS-100 certificate

    • International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) – Behavioral Health Awareness certificate

    • The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) – Psychological First Aid (PFA) certificate 

Ready to volunteer with PALS?


What our PALS volunteers say

“My two dogs Linus and Velvet bring joy to me and my family, and I am grateful for the opportunity to share them with others in the community. They wag their tails when I bring out their PALS vest, ready for their next adventure. Then I get to watch children and adults smile and giggle and laugh when we visit and listen to great stories the dogs inspire. It is an honor to have so many opportunities to brighten someone's day.”

-Alexandra J. (volunteer and board member)

  • Who can apply for a PALS facility dog?
    Any professional working with children with disabilities can apply.
  • What does a PALS facility dog do?
    Facility dogs assist professionals working with children with disabilities in a variety of settings.
  • Does the team have public access?
    No, facility dog teams, including courthouse/comfort dogs, do not have public access.
  • What dog breeds does PALS use as service dogs?
    PALS uses Labrador Retrievers for service dogs.
  • How old are the dogs when they are matched?
    It varies, depending on when a client’s application is received and approved. The matching and training process may begin when the dog is still a puppy in its puppy-raiser’s home, but the dog will not officially be placed until it is at least 16 months of age and has passed all of its medical screenings. Since our team training is on an individual team basis, placement is made when each team has met PALS’ rigorous guidelines.
  • How long is the application process?
    The application process varies. A potential client’s parent must call or send an email requesting a home interview and a service dog application. An in-home interview is scheduled, wherein a PALS representative will take a current dog-in-training to meet the child and their family. When we receive the completed applications, application fees and PALS representative’s recommendations, our client committee will meet to discuss possible placement of a PALS dog with each applicant. Families will be notified regarding their status soon thereafter.
  • How much does it cost?
    A service PALS fee is $8,000. The average expenses related to breeding, socializing, raising, training and placing a service dog are $20,000. However, since PALS receives contributions and donations from the public, and applies for grants, the fees for obtaining a service dog and necessary family team training are significantly less. Each family is asked to fundraise or contribute according to their financial ability to offset a portion of our costs. PALS will assist families with fundraisers upon request.
  • Who is eligible to apply for a PALS service dog?
    Any family with a child with a disability other than blindness, seizure or severe allergy disorders between the ages of 5 and 18 years of age. The child must not be violent towards animals. Each family is carefully screened.
  • Do service dogs have public access with a child with disabilities?
    Most definitely, yes!
  • Does the service dog take the place of the primary caregiver?
    Absolutely not! PALS dogs assist in helping the child to stay safe, interrupt repetitive behaviors and act as a constant friend, just to name a few benefits. They are not responsible for taking the place of a human caregiver.
  • Are the dogs trained to find my child if they get lost?
    No. Our dogs are not trained in search and rescue. If your child is missing, call 911 or local law enforcement immediately. We train the children and dogs to play the “find me” game. Hopefully, when the child is scared, they will remember to call out to their dog, thereby alerting those looking for the child.
  • Do social, therapy, reading, comfort and comfort, crisis, peer support dog teams have public access like a service dog has?
    No, they do not. They are allowed to go wherever “pet” dogs are allowed, unless they have been approved to visit one of our facility partners or venues.
  • Which breeds of dogs can attend PALS social, therapy and reading dog team training?
    All breeds of dogs are welcome to attend our team training as long as they are not aggressive toward people and/or other dogs; are well-behaved; know basic commands (sit, down, stay, come, leave it, etc.); vaccinations are current and their veterinarian agrees they have the temperament suitable for volunteering as a support dog in our community.
  • How old does a dog have to be to participate in PALS’ social, therapy and reading dog team training?
    A minimum of one year of age for the team training and certification.
  • When can my dog and I become certified by PALS?
    Approximately two weeks after a team completes PALS’ 15-hour training, they will be offered an opportunity to participate in PALS’ 17-point team certification evaluation. Once they pass the evaluation, we will mentor them for a minimum of three visits at a facility they would like to visit.
  • How often is training offered and when?
    Training is currently offered twice a year. Please visit our Classes page for dates and costs.
  • Where do social, therapy and reading dog teams visit?
    Social, therapy and reading dog teams may visit schools (elementary, middle, high schools, SRJC and SSU), libraries, care homes, assisted living facilities, convalescent homes, Children’s Museum, Boys and Girls Club, Juvenile Hall and more.
  • What is the cost for the training?
    This training costs $300 for three five-hour days of team training with their pet dog (Saturday, Sunday, Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day) and a one-hour team evaluation for certification. Please see our Classes page for more information.
  • Why is there additional training for comfort PALS?
    PALS has developed an eight-hour comfort dog team training to train and prepare new teams to interact with people during and after school death or trauma; for active shooter scenarios; to be around emergency personnel and equipment; and to volunteer in highly emotionally charged situations. These teams are invited to various high schools’ Every 15 Minutes programs. Some additional training may be required by organizations with whom PALS has partnered.
  • What is the cost?
    PALS does not charge for this additional training; however, our partners might. You must be a PALS social, therapy and reading dog team in good standing before applying to take the class.
  • Where do comfort teams visit?
    PALS comfort teams may visit students/schools as crisis response and recovery team members with Sonoma County Office of Education after a traumatic incident or after the death of a student or staff member; or attend funerals, memorial services or home visitations when invited.
  • What additional training is needed to become a comfort, crisis, peer support team?
    Behavioral Health Awareness - International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Division of Occupational Health, Safety and Medicine Psychological First Aid (PFA) Field Operation Guide 2nd Ed. - National Child Traumatic Stress Network-National Center for PTSD IS-00100.c Introduction to Incident Command System, ICS-100 – Emergency Management Institute-FEMA IS-00200.c Basic Incident Command for Initial Response, ICS-200 – Emergency Management Institute-FEMA (in order to be a comfort, crisis and peer support team leader)
  • Are there annual costs?
    PALS requests each team (one handler and one dog) donate $50 per year, which helps to cover our annual liability insurance for PALS volunteers when visiting various facilities and events on PALS’ behalf.
  • Are teams required to purchase a uniform?
    Yes, each dog must wear a PALS cape and each handler must wear a PALS uniform shirt and tan pants when representing PALS as volunteers in the community at facilities or events. Teams are also required to wear a PALS ID card in a PALS lanyard.
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