UNC PAWS (Peer Assisted Wellness Support)

UNC PAWS' shelter-to-pet program is a dog-training therapy program for patients/clients with severe mental illness who learn to train (dogs) and then prepare them for adoption. At the Puppy Development Center, clients and other community volunteers interact with puppies to provide socialization as the first stage of preparing them to be service dogs.

Research shows that individuals who interact with dogs experience greater health benefits such as lower heart and blood pressure rates. The Center, in collaboration with the paws4people foundation in Wilmington, N.C. and   North Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation, has created a dog-training therapy program UNC PAWS, (peer-assisted wellness services) at The Farm at Penny Lane Farm in Pittsboro, N.C. for individuals with severe mental illness.  Clients from Center clinics are given priority for program participation. The training programs use paws4people guidelines. 

Shelter to Pet

Individuals with severe mental illness receive specialized training and, subsequently, train dogs that will be available for adoption at the end of the 12-week session. The program works with local shelters (Chatham Country) to select dogs for the program.

Benefits for patients/clients working with and training these dogs include: Learning responsibility; improving self-confidence;  experiencing empathy and a sense of accomplishment, and achieving marketable job skills. For information contact: or

 Puppy Development

At the puppy development center, clients/patients from UNC and other community volunteers interact with puppies to provide socialization as the first stage of preparing them to be service dogs.

During the 10- week stay at Penny Lane, the puppies visit schools, hospitals, retirement homes and other community venues,which contributes to their training goals.Their overall socialization training includes: Sensitization, confidence building, and problem solving.

Following training, the puppies will go to a women's correctional facility in West Virginia, where inmates will provide training for the puppies to become service dogs that will be matched to veterans.

For information or to arrange a visit, contact:

For additional program information contact : thava@unc.edu

Media contact:

To donate to UNC PAWS at Penny Lane