Welcome!! - We're so glad you're here!

We are located in Palm Desert, CA and serve the entire Coachella Valley with our trained Canine Ambassadors and their human handlers. Seven days of the week, our 45 plus teams make weekly visits to area hospitals, long-term care facilities, Cancer Centers, Alzheimer's Facilities and senior centers. Our 2-legged and 4-legged teams visit with the residents and patients in these facilities, lifting spirits by providing some much needed canine therapy.

Pet Loss Bereavement Support Group

Click the picture above to visit our Pet Bereavemnt Support Group page.

Some of our Canine Ambassadors who are at the Rainbow Bridge

Click the pictures below to visit our Memorials pages.

About Us

"Paws & Hearts" Animal Assisted Therapy is a Pet Therapy Visitation Organization, which was founded in December, 2000 by Richard and "Lucky" Waxman. Shortly thereafter "Scruffy" came along. We are a registered Not-For-Profit (501 C3) community based volunteer group.

We are now in our 24th year and "Terry" (pictured) is the newest face of the organization. Richard and "Terry" are always looking for new volunteer teams. If you are considering joining our organization please read through our website and give us a call!

Our mission statement is quite simple:

"Paws & Hearts" Animal Assisted Therapy is a leader in the field of "Animal Assisted Therapy" (AAT) and it is our mission to enrich the lives of the frail and special care cases that require the loving attention and affection that only a "four-legged" healer can provide.

Ultimately our vision for the future is to increase the number of visits to each facility (to a minimum of twice a week), and to visit smaller board and care facilities.

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A little more About Us

Just imagine being laid up in a hospital or convalescent center and into your room strolls a four-legged Canine Ambassador from "Paws & Hearts" Animal Assisted Therapy. The greater presence of animals in health-care settings comes amid increasing evidence that pets are good for us and can play a significant role in patients' recovery. Referred to as "Pet Therapy" or "Animal Assisted Therapy", pet visitations have become an important tool for doctors and rehabilitation specialists.

Animals motivate people to participate in their therapies, brighten patients' days, give them a chance to talk about the animals in their lives, and give them the opportunity to forget they're in a hospital. Clinical studies have already shown that petting a dog or a cat lowers blood pressure, and has an overall calming effect on patients. But just as important as the clinical benefits, visiting pets give the patients a real breather from their current situation.

Many of the patients visited are withdrawn and in pain, but bring a friendly dog or purring cat into the room and 99% of the time the patient will respond favorably. The visiting pet brings a change of pace to the day that has long lasting effects. Consider this story;

"My Mother was in respite in the hospital. The day one of your Canine Ambassadors came to visit was my mother's best day! All she did was talk about how sweet and gentle the dog was and how happy he made her feel. You have no idea how wonderful this program is!"

Much has been written lately about the difference between dogs used for Pet Therapy and Service Dogs. Both titles have distinct differences both in the training and what the dog ultimately is used for. At "Paws & Hearts" Animal Assisted Therapy we only train dogs for use in health-care settings and they have the classification of Therapy Dog, or as we term them, Canine Ambassador.

Every Pet Therapy organization has its own standard of temperament testing, training and ultimate certification. At "Paws & Hearts" we require dogs to be:

  • a minimum of a one year old
  • spayed or neutered
  • current on all vaccinations

And that's it! We do not require basic obedience class or the Canine Good Citizenship award. Our evaluator is looking for dogs that are incredibly friendly, outgoing, curious about new surroundings, who interacts exceedingly well with strangers on a first time meet and greet. If a dog is good at this, and takes simple commands from its human parent it will pretty much pass the test and be ready for training.

"Paws & Hearts" Animal Assisted Therapy is a 501c3 Non Profit Animal Assisted Therapy Organization located in Palm Desert, California. Volunteer handlers and their Canine Ambassadors visit their assigned facility once per week. Please consider becoming a Volunteer Team member with our organization. Please enjoy our site and email us at with your questions.

Now that you have read through the Home page and understand what it is we are looking for in a potential Canine Ambassador, please give our office a call at (760) 836-1406 to have your first informal interview. If the phone interview goes well, you will be invited to complete the formal Volunteer Application. Please keep in mind, that we are located in a seasonal area. The desert is home to many 'winter snow-birds'. We only accept full-time desert dwellers who are able to make an initial commitment of one-year, visiting their assigned facility each and every week.

Richard and his mascot dog, Terry, look forward to hearing from you!

Fall 2023 Update

Linda Henry has done an outstanding job of bringing our new website into the 21st Century.

But I have to honor Valerie Zugates who for almost 16 years maintained our site and took such great pride in working on it. You can see Valerie's story here:

Valerie's Story

In addition to Valerie, no remembrance would be complete without referencing Drew Marefos. My buddy Drew, who for that same 16 years learned about what we do, so he could do his own weekly visits. Drew trained volunteers, made presentations around the valley, worked tirelessly on the Dog Walk, and was such a huge help to me. You can see Drew's story here:

Drew's Story


Years of Therapy


Therapy Visits




It Changes Lives!
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Some of the Clients we Serve

The original mascots of "Paws & Hearts" Animal Assisted Therapy 'Lucky' (right) and 'Scruffy' doing what they do best, sharing love and comfort to a patient at Eisenhower Medical Center.

  • Comprehensive Cancer Center at Desert Regional Medical Center
  • Country Villa Rancho Mirage Healthcare
  • The Fountains at the Carlotta
  • Manor Care
  • Palm Springs Healthcare
  • Vista Cove at Rancho Mirage
  • Windsor Court
  • Bella Villagio
  • Desert Springs Healthcare and Wellness
  • Indio Nursing & Rehabilitation
  • Brookdale
  • Monterey Palms