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Photo: @OTD_Ottawa (Twitter)

Ottawa Therapy Dogs: The healing power of fur

By Yasmin Nissim on November 22, 2017


The internet is an incredible ocean of cute animal moments. Whether you’re looking for a chubby kitty trying to fit in a tiny box, a surfing corgi, or a super affectionate little parrot, the internet will not disappoint. The best part of these videos is the instant happiness they bring. Animals are pretty amazing that way. Even through a computer screen, they can easily make a bad mood better.

Photo: Ottawa Therapy Dogs (Facebook)

Therapy animals are like the live action version of these internet snippets, bringing an instant infusion of positivity with them wherever they go. They come into the lives of people to give them comfort, a reason to smile, or even a little extra confidence when facing something intimidating. Whether it’s someone sick in the hospital, elderly residents in a retirement home, or even a young child learning to read out loud, therapy animals are able to improve the physical and emotional situation of their clients, providing an invaluable service to those they are there to help.

Photo: Ottawa Therapy Dogs (Facebook)

Ottawa is lucky enough to have its own locally-based organization that provides therapy dog services all around the National Capital Region: Ottawa Therapy Dogs (OTD). The OTD is a registered not-for-profit providing support services to over 1,000 people each year. The volunteer teams visit health care and social services facilities, and work with local schools through the R.E.A.D Program, providing support to children with reading challenges.

I recently had the wonderful opportunity to do a quick interview with one of the amazing teams who volunteer with the OTD. Please meet Ann Lambert and her partner Jaz!

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Apt613: What inspired you to become involved with the OTD?

Ann Lambert: I have been doing Therapy with my Goldens for over 35 years. I knew [OTD founder] Marilyn [Benoit] from doing it with her and when she started OTD I moved with her. They have such high standards.

Marilyn Benoit founded Ottawa Therapy Dogs nearly two decades ago. Marilyn was a retired nurse who set out to establish a therapy dog organization with “gold standards” of care for both OTD clients and OTD dogs.

Tell us a bit about your canine partner and how long you’ve been working together.

Jaz is a 12 ½ yr old Golden Retriever. She loves children so was a good fit with R.E.A.D. I bred her so have had her from birth! She loves to please. Some of her favourite things are swimming and retrieving, and agility – she is at the Masters level. She has had three litters of puppies and is a great grandmother! Her mother and grandmother were also therapy dogs and her daughter is a R.E.A.D and therapy dog.

OTD volunteer Ann Lambert with her partner Jaz.

Where do you usually volunteer together?

Jaz and I do R.E.A.D at Stonecrest Public School in Woodlawn. She also goes to CHEO.

What is one of the most rewarding experiences you’ve had as a therapy team?

Visiting CHEO we get a variety of children with many problems. I think the most rewarding is seeing a smile on a face that hasn’t smiled, a reach to touch Jaz when they have difficulty moving. In the R.E.A.D program, seeing an autistic child who is having a bad day calm right down when they see Jaz and give her a big hug, burying their face in her fur, and then reading to her.

If someone was interested in becoming a therapy team, how would they get started?

Make sure they start exposing their puppy or dog to absolutely everything so the dog isn’t afraid of anything. Also take some sessions of obedience so you have a bond and can work as a team.

Being a not-for-profit, the OTD does fundraising throughout the year to help support their programs and the fantastic work done by their volunteers. Ann and Jaz, along with three other ambassador teams, will be in attendance at the OTD’s upcoming annual fundraiser, “A Winter’s Tail”, taking place on December 2nd. Tickets are still available, but only until the end of this week.

If you’re interested in attending this Dr. Seuss-inspired evening of great food and even better company, make sure you grab your tickets now. It’s an excellent opportunity to get to speak to the teams in person and learn about the wonderful work they do. Besides… dinner and dogs? Heck yeah!