In Memory of Marilyn Benoit
Marilyn Benoit, the founder and pivotal force of Ottawa Therapy Dogs (OTD) was tragically killed in an automobile accident on Friday evening, October 19, 2007. She was on her way to help with an OTD evaluation session to create new teams in order to deliver service to people in hospitals, retirement and nursing homes, schools and community organizations.
There is no way to make sense of this terrible tragedy. After tears are shed — and there have been many — it will be our collective memories that will help to celebrate Marilyn's life and keep her legacy alive. Her influence within OTD was profound. For over a decade, she was our inspiration, our mentor and our friend.
Marilyn's contribution to OTD was unsurpassed. Most of her adult life, Marilyn was committed to volunteerism, treating her unpaid work as seriously as any full-time, waged job. She also witnessed firsthand the power of pets to provide comfort to people within institutionalized settings. When she died, at the age of 63, therapy dogs had become, in many ways, her life's work.
At the grassroots level, Marilyn was a volunteer visitor herself and worked with Ruby, her black Labrador retriever and family pet, in many health settings around the Ottawa region. Ruby retired in the fall of 2006. During her last visit with Ruby, to the Élisabeth Bruyère Health Centre, where they had visited with palliative care patients weekly, Marilyn received a surprise Community Builder Award from the United Way.
At the organizational level, Marilyn was a strong advocate for high standards of excellence in animal-assisted activities and therapies. Her background as a nurse was an asset. She was chair of the board of OTD for many years and instrumental in establishing the foundation and framework of the organization. Her position at the time of her death was OTD's Volunteer Coordinator — a position that she loved as it gave her the opportunity to keep in touch with, and mentor, all OTD members from the moment they applied to be part of the organization. She also contributed in an enormous way to virtually all facets of OTD.
At the personal level, many of us will remember Marilyn as the lady who was always there for us; just a phone call away. Her energy, enthusiasm and selfless commitment to care were always there, even after the death of her beloved Ruby in February, 2007.
Marilyn's many contributions to OTD were formally recognized the day prior to her funeral, with the announcement that she was to be awarded the Governor General's Caring Canadian Award. This award, created in 1996, is given to people or groups "whose unpaid, voluntary contributions provide extraordinary help or care to people in the community." Although the announcement had not yet been made public, Marilyn was aware of the Award prior to her death. Her husband, Paul, will be asked to accept this award on Marilyn's behalf next spring at a posthumous ceremony planned at Rideau Hall.
Marilyn Benoit's legacy will live on. We wish to express our sincere sympathies to the Benoit family and heartfelt thanks to them for supporting her as she gave so much of herself to the organization. We are deeply committed to honouring her memory by continuing to provide compassionate and exemplary quality care with our visiting therapy dog teams.
All of us at Ottawa Therapy Dogs,
October 30, 2007