PetPalsNC, Inc. promotes and supports the use of animal-assisted therapy and activities for K-12 students to enhance academic, social, emotional, and behavioral growth.

We currently serve multiple schools in North Carolina within Orange County, Chapel Hill-Carrboro, and Durham districts, and our services are provided at no cost. Since we continually receive requests from schools for pet-assisted therapy, we are trying to raise funds needed to continue our growth.

PetPalsNC does not certify or train therapy animals; instead, we recruit already-certified pet therapy teams to work with children and adolescents in schools, and we offer information, support, and guidance to the handlers, as well as to the participating schools. Our goal is to provide animal-assisted interventions that target the student’s need or challenge.

Schools must designate a school counselor or social worker to serve as PetPalsNC liaison and sign a Memorandum of Agreement, which sets expectations. The liaison and/or other school professionals refer students to work with the dogs, help to plan the interventions, and possibly direct the sessions, while the handler’s role is to facilitate the interaction between the dog and the student.

In 2007 Wendy Stewart, a licensed clinical social worker who worked as a social worker for Orange County Schools researched pet-assisted therapy as a possible way to better reach students in a non-traditional high school.

Wendy became certified as a Team with Ella, a rescued mix, followed by Julius and Foster. All three therapy dogs rotated days, working with students in both of Wendy’s assigned schools.

As word spread about the good things that were happening with the dogs, other schools requested therapy dogs, and in 2010 Wendy established “Pet Pals” as a program and began to recruit other therapy teams from the community to place in those schools.

Wendy retired in 2014 from the school district and set to work to grow the program.

In early 2016, PetPals NC was incorporated and received 501(c)3 status.

Defined as a purposeful interaction between an individual or group and a trained animal to achieve any number of benefits and/or goals. The animal and handler must be registered and/or certified and maintain membership in one of the pet therapy organizations such as Pet Partners, TDI, Alliance of Therapy Dogs, and Love on a Leash. These screen, evaluate, and insure, but do not train the animals.

Therapy pets not only work in elementary and secondary schools, but also in universities and colleges to help students to de-stress with dogs before exams. Many of the PetPals dogs also go to Duke, UNC, and other campuses to work with hundreds of students.

The Benefits of Pet Therapy


Increases verbal interactions among group members

Increases attention skills

Increases self-esteem

Reduces anxiety

Reduces loneliness

Improves depressive symptoms

Decreases behavioral problems

Enhances emotional well-being


Improves fine motor skills

Improves gross motor skills like balance and coordination

Relaxes the body


Increases vocabulary and reading fluency

Improves attitude toward reading

Aids in long and short-term memory

Social & Motivational

Improves willingness to be involved in a group activity

Improves interactions with others and with staff

Improves communication and cooperation

Enhances empathy and sensitivity development