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Meet the Pets: Bringing Therapy Animals to Congress

Elisabeth Van Every
Pet Partners Meet the Pets logo
Pet Partners Meet the Pets logo

On November 13, 2019, Pet Partners brought therapy animals to Congress with a new event: Meet the Pets.

Hosted in conjunction with the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC), this event gave members of Congress, their staff, and other people on Capitol Hill the opportunity to interact with some Pet Partners therapy animal teams, and to learn about the value of animal-assisted interventions and the work that Pet Partners and our teams do.

One of the goals of Pet Partners is to educate the public about therapy animals and the power of the human-animal bond, and to help ensure that laws that affect standards and access for therapy animals are created with a solid base of information. Our grassroots advocacy efforts focus on bringing this information to lawmakers to help them in crafting sound policies around animal-assisted interventions. Bringing Pet Partners teams to Capitol Hill was a great opportunity to provide this education to federal lawmakers in a hands-on way.

“While reading and hearing about the benefits of the human-animal bond is important, there is no substitute for experiencing the power of therapy animals firsthand,” says Pet Partners Chief Mission Officer Mary Margaret Callahan. “We were thrilled to bring therapy animal teams to the U.S. Capitol to provide not just stress relief, but also education.”

Pet Partners dog teams set up shop in the Hart Senate Office Building and the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill, with three teams at each building. The event ran from 11:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., to give plenty of opportunity for people to visit with the teams. There were three shifts scheduled to ensure that the dogs didn’t get too tired or stressed from meeting a lot of people, as part of demonstrating our commitment to high standards and animal welfare.

As it happened, November 13 was an unexpectedly busy day on Capitol Hill, because that was the day that public impeachment hearings began. “This was a happy accident, to be honest,” says PIJAC President Mike Bober. “We had scheduled this event months in advance.” But that meant that on a day when Congressional staff were dealing with an extra level of intensity and media attention, our therapy dogs were an especially welcome antidote to workplace stress.

And the reaction from elected officials and staff was extremely positive! From young staffers who talked about wanting to get their first pets to Congressmembers who were interested to hear how these volunteers and their special animals enhance human health and well-being for their communities, all our guests enjoyed a brief break with the therapy animals.

Rep. Kendra Horn-OK petting Hart the therapy dog
Rep. Kendra Horn of Oklahoma spends some quality time with therapy dog Hart

People in suits were seen laying on the floor lovingly petting the therapy dogs, taking selfies, and chatting with the handlers to learn more about Pet Partners and the many ways therapy animals are improving human health and well-being in communities all across the country.

Rep. Cheri Busto of Illinois meets Cedric the therapy dog and talks with handler Mikaela McRae

As they took a few minutes to pet the animals, officials also took the time to thank the Pet Partners handlers in attendance not only for being there on the Hill, but also for the positive impact the Pet Partners teams have their own communities visiting hospitals, nursing homes, VA facilities, and schools.

Visitors also received “I pet a therapy animal” stickers (inspired by the “I Voted” stickers) to show off their time spent with the Pet Partners teams. The stickers were a big hit, and led others to ask about the presence of therapy animals on Capitol Hill. Many people who had already come by the event returned with colleagues, saying things like, “I brought my friend because she just has to meet Cedric the doodle” or “I am bringing my colleague to pet Zamboni and Spumoni the therapy samoyeds!”


More than 300 people on Capitol Hill came by to spend some time with our teams and learn about our mission. The event was such a hit that we’re going to do it again in April 2020, as part of celebrating National Therapy Animal Day on April 30. We hope we might even be able to bring some of our other therapy animal species and show that it’s not only dogs who can provide the positive effects of animal-assisted interventions. Many people who took part in this event are already looking forward to next April, and we’re looking forward to demonstrating the power of the human-animal bond for even more people on Capitol Hill.

For more about our Meet the Pets event, check out some of the media coverage:

It’s a stressful day on Capitol Hill. Dogs are there to help. – Washington Post

Therapy dogs sighted on Capitol Hill amid stress of first public impeachment hearing – ABC News

Therapy Dogs Visit Capitol Hill to Help Congress De-Stress as Impeachment Hearings Begin – People

Therapy dogs help Capitol Hill staff deal with stress on the opening day of congressional hearings into the impeachment of President Trump. – Reuters (via Twitter)

Dogs Comfort Lawmakers During Impeachment Hearings – This Dog’s Life

Pet Partners & PIJAC Bring Therapy Animals to Capitol Hill – Pet Business