Do you know a child who has lost a loved one, gotten a scary diagnosis, or has a deployed parent? It can be hard to know what to do for kids who just need a smile, but one new program may be able to help: the AKC PupPals Program. While they can’t deliver a real-life doggo to every child’s door, they come pretty close, by turning dogs around the nation into paw-sitively perfect pen pals.
The Child Mind Institute noted that animals are a key part of physical therapy and emotional counseling for children of all ages. Facility dogs help teach fine motor skills, like picking pom pom “fleas” off of a pup’s back. Service dogs are also trained to accompany children into the courtroom to testify against their abusers, giving them courage and a friend to lean on. As many national news outlets reported, the service dogs who comforted Parkland, Florida students after a mass shooting at their high school even got their yearbook photos taken because of the positive impact they made throughout the year.
Not all children have direct access to therapy dogs, but thankfully, it’s not totally necessary anymore. The American Kennel Club’s (AKC) PupPals can help encourage children during hard times by sending them a custom letter and photo of a dog who wants them to feel better. The PupPals Program also gives dog owners a chance to share their pet’s love with kids who could use some canine comfort.
The program uses PupPals cards, and each card includes facts about a real dog, including their name, breed, fun facts about their favorite things, an adorable photo, and a personalized letter to the child. When it comes to signing up, any child having a difficult time is welcome. The AKC invites anyone who knows a child who could benefit from the program to send the nomination form to that child’s parents. Only a parent or guardian can fill out the form for their child.
Also, parents, you don’t have to reveal any medical diagnoses or sensitive information about your child’s situation. The AKC does want to know things like your child’s grade level, favorite movies, characters, and colors. This helps them personalize the letter and make your child feel special.
Your child should receive their letter eight to 10 business days after you submit their information. If your child can’t receive mail at home right now due to hospitalization, the AKC suggests submitting the hospital’s address instead. And yes, everything you submit is strictly confidential, according to the AKC’s PupPals FAQ. The AKC Education team uses any info you share to personalize your child’s letter. AKC staff will not share any information you submit with anyone, including the pet owners who submit their dogs’ information to the program.
The bonus news is that, in order to write letters for every child, the AKC needs dog owners’ help. Pet parents who want to share some puppy love with children in distress should fill out the online dog submission form and send in photos. Dogs of any age or breed are welcome to participate, per the AKC website, including mixed breeds. Participating pups can’t know anything about the children they’re bringing smiles to, but the AKC will send a PupPal bandana and certificate to show their appreciation.