Written by Julianne Labreche , OTD Associate Member


Everyone needs a wise mentor when young, someone to smooth those rough edges and teach kindness by living it.


Copain, the big black standard poodle that works every Monday morning as a therapy dog with ALS patients at The Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre (TOHRC) had a mentor too. His name was Dylan, a big, friendly white standard poodle that lived with Michel Bourassa, his handler.


As a young dog, just six months old, Copain had lots to learn when he moved into his forever home with Dylan and Michel.


By then, Dylan was an experienced therapy dog. Michel and Dylan had been working in the ALS Clinic as volunteers for over three years, greeting outpatients and their families. Patients diagnosed with ALS are seen at TOHRC for medical interventions and rehabilitation therapies provided by an experienced ALS team.

Dylan

Even though ALS has no known cure, there is a great deal that can be done to improve a patient’s quality of life as the disease progresses. For that reason, these patients continue to make the trek regularly to meet with doctors, nurses and rehabilitation staff.


Nevertheless, these clinic visits often are difficult. Patients sometimes receive bad news, especially given the progressive nature of their disabilities. A friendly visit from a therapy dog team can go a long way to reduce the stress and anxiety that can accompany appointments.


Right from the beginning, Michel hoped that Copain would be a therapy dog too, just like his older dog.


Copain and Dylan

“The two dogs hit it off famously,” says Michel, retired and a volunteer with Ottawa Therapy Dogs (OTD) and The Ottawa Hospital. He remembers too that the energetic pup needed to learn a few good manners. Of course, there was the usual roughhousing in the backyard between the two dogs, but there were also carefully planned walks around the hospital grounds. Always leashed and with his young protégée in tow, Michel encouraged Dylan to be a good mentor.


Following Dylan’s example, Copain was taught how to be on his best behavior around the hospital, never pulling on his leash or jumping, always being friendly and gentle when strangers approached. Fortunately, the young dog learned quickly.


Then one winter’s day, bad news arrived. It came about the time that Copain, almost two, was about to be tested in an OTD therapy dog evaluation. Dylan was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor. Soon after, the dog died– a sad day for Michel and Dale, his wife.


Just one week later and still grieving, Michel picked up the leash and attached it to Copain. The time had come for new beginnings. Together, on one cold Monday morning in February 2017, this new therapy dog team walked across the icy park to the hospital. The little pup had grown into a big, gentle therapy dog, thanks, in part, to his best friend Dylan.


Since then, Michel and Copain have provided regular weekly therapy dog visits in the ALS Clinic. They’re still volunteering there. While Dylan will always be missed, it turns out Copain has a style of his own that seems to work its magic on many patients. Not all people like dogs, but most do. Michel – a shy, quiet, big-hearted man – respects that fact and never imposes his dog on hospital visitors or staff.


“The ALS clinic meets with patients and their significant others at a very emotional and vulnerable period in their lives,” says the ALS team’s registered nurse Susan McNeely. “Copain has the sweetest way of gently leaning his body into the person, providing them with his version of a hug.”

Staff sometimes benefit from the visits too, given the stressful nature of this emotionally charged work.

“Having a therapy dog team during the ALS Clinic has really made a difference for both patients and staff,” says Margo Butler, a speech-language pathologist on the ALS team. “They are a much needed calming and soothing influence.”


Michel is proud to show off a photo of Dylan that hangs in a nearby hospital corridor. In the photo, Dylan is standing next to former Governor General David Johnston who visited the rehabilitation centre during his time in office. Dylan and Michel also won various awards, including a national award from the ALS Society for their volunteer work.


Copain receives his share of recognition too, including being thanked during Volunteer Week at the hospital and before Christmas, sometimes with a bag of dried liver or other treats.


After all, loosely translated, the French word ‘copain’ means ‘friend’.

These days, there’s no doubt that Copain has made many friends among the patients, family members and hospital staff who have come to rely on these regular therapy dog visits for kindness and affection in troubled times.

Julianne Labreche has been a member of Ottawa Therapy Dogs since 2000. Currently an associate member, Julianne is a past Director on Ottawa Therapy Dogs’ Board of Directors and was a therapy dog handler with her previous dog, Paugan, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.


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Written by Julianne Labreche


Cedarview Animal Hospital is one of OTD's key supporters for 2018/19. As part of this new partnership, three talented writers - Judy Beltzner, Julianne Labreche and Karen Luker - have teamed up to produce some very inspiring stories about our 'good dogs doing GREAT work'.  This story has also been featured on Cedarview Animal Hospital's blog.


When Lucille Crépeau, a woman in her nineties, passed away earlier this year, her only son Michel reached out in his grief to a team from Ottawa Therapy Dogs. He invited Lise Dazé and Bella, her Rottweiler and Bernese Mountain Dog mix, to participate in the funeral held to celebrate his mother’s life.

“I was back in Ottawa during this difficult period and saw Lise and Bella multiple times,” Michel, who lives in British Columbia, remembers. His mother had a stroke and as her health gradually deteriorated, she was moved to palliative care. “Pets were significant companions to my mom,” he recalls.


Lise, who loves to sing, sang composer Franz Schubert’s beautiful song Ave Maria at the funeral. She was comfortable singing that day before the mainly French-speaking community of invited family and friends, having sung in churches since she was a young girl. Nowadays, she also uses singing as a way to connect with residents at Centre d’accueil Champlain, a long-term care residence in Vanier where Madame Crépeau resided prior to her death. Bella – groomed and looking her best with her Ottawa Therapy Dogs scarf – sat in honour near the cremation urn during the service.


“You meet lots of people, but you really get close to some of the residents,” says Lise, describing her volunteer work with Bella at Centre d’accueil Champlain over the years. Her passion and enthusiasm for her volunteer work are obvious. She is the kind of volunteer who goes above-and-beyond the call of duty to cheer up the residents, many of whom are elderly and have dementia or other cognitive and physical impairments. Every Saturday, she and Bella visit the residence. Sometimes, she makes extra visits, especially when a resident is approaching death. Residents pat Bella, chat with Lise about family pets or other topics, or hold hands and sing.


Lise’s relationship to Madame Crépeau was one of those close relationships. Bella helped to forge a strong bond between the two women who were alike in many ways, despite the difference in their respective ages. Lise remembers her as a stubborn, determined woman. “If I was late, she’d ask, where were you? I was waiting for you,” she laughs. She also remembers her frail friend, a former hospital employee, as a strong advocate for others. She often spoke up for other residents and had high expectations about the level of care provided by staff. Lise liked her feisty, strong personality and easily connected with her.


The two women also shared a love of dogs, deepening the relationship even further. Madame Crépeau lived part of her life in Ottawa where she had always had little dogs to keep her company. Even though Bella is a big dog, she appreciated the dog’s calm, gentle temperament and delighted that Bella was clean and always smelled good. Visits usually began with a pat for Bella and then the big dog would lie down at her feet while the two women chatted away. 


One day near the final weeks of Madame Crépeau’s life, Lise got a call from staff at the residence that her friend was ill. She began to visit more often. During the Christmas break, Lise visited her every day. She visited on Christmas Eve, on Christmas day, on New Year’s Eve and until she passed away on January 1, 2018. On that day, Lise remembers walking with Bella in the park and experiencing a sudden feeling that she needed to visit the residence. She drove there with Bella just in time to spend some special time with Madame Crépeau. Lise was with her friend when she passed away. “I stayed with her, prayed with her and then went and got the nurse. It was very quiet and peaceful, “she remembers.


Andrea Chartrand, Activities Coordinator at the City of Ottawa facility, describes the work of this therapy dog team as ‘friendship visits’. They help to break the isolation that many residents feel in an institutional setting and the effects of having experienced different losses in the past, including the loss of their pets. “She has developed some beautiful relationships. We’re very lucky to have her,” Andrea says.


She explains that prior to being assigned to a therapy dog team, residents are evaluated to determine who likes dogs, who had family pets and who is allergic to animals. Then it’s determined who would be appropriate for a therapy dog visit.

Lise admits that it’s difficult to say goodbye when a resident passes. She continues to be comforted by her faith and by knowing that these elderly residents have enjoyed these therapy dog visits.

Julianne Labreche has been a member of Ottawa Therapy Dogs since 2000. Currently an associate member, Julianne is a past Director on Ottawa Therapy Dogs’ Board of Directors and was a therapy dog team with her previous dog, Paugan, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever. She is also the author of “The Woman Who Lost Her Words, A Story About Stroke, Speech and Some Healing Pets” based on her experience with animal-assisted therapy using Paugan in her work in speech therapy.

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Written by Judy Beltzner


Cedarview Animal Hospital is one of OTD's key supporters for 2018/19. As part of this new partnership, three talented writers - Judy Beltzner, Julianne Labreche and Karen Luker - have teamed up to produce some very inspiring stories about our 'good dogs doing GREAT work'.  This story has also been featured on Cedarview Animal Hospital's blog.


Late nights. Too much coffee. Cramming. Away from home for the first time. So much pressure! Anyone who has gone to university recognizes the causes and symptoms of students’ anxiety. Now there is a new way to help students get through trying times during the academic year when their tension builds. How to do it? With therapy dogs!


Ottawa’s two universities recognize the benefits of interaction with therapy dogs and are offering it to their students in slightly different ways. At the University of Ottawa, Student Academic Success Services and Health Promotion Services collaborate to offer a weekly, hour-long program for students who are feeling anxious or living through stressful situations. Students can spend time with one or more of several therapy dogs, including a beautiful golden retriever named Luther from Ottawa Therapy Dogs.


Luther’s handler is Sylvie Lambert. Though her job is teaching translation at uOttawa, her mission in life is doing therapy work with her dogs. Sylvie was part of the initial pilot program there with Luther’s predecessor, Rusty Bear. Now, she brings Luther every second Friday and takes a visceral pleasure in how much the students cherish their time with him. “When I leave,” she says, “I’m high as a kite.” The students’ interactions with Luther are 100% genuine and sincere, from the heart, with no artifice and without the protective barriers that humans sometimes put up between themselves.


The uOttawa therapy dog program began in 2012 and is currently coordinated by Sylvie Fournel-Marko. The program is hugely popular, with students lined up out the door to wait for their opportunity to visit with the dogs. Peak times are around mid-terms and exams, but the program is always well attended with an average of 80 – 100 students visiting with three dogs during the one-hour session.  University staff sometimes join in as well. Ms. Fournel-Marko says that students typically leave with comments like “this made my day” and “this really helped me.” Homesick students, especially from overseas or those missing their own dogs, are particularly appreciative of the warm welcome they get from the therapy dogs.


A study of the pilot program concluded that it offered students “a sense of love and support … a means to reduce stress from their studies.” Students’ ratings showed that they were glad they came (4.95 on a 5-point scale), felt more calm and relaxed (4.29/5) and would recommend the program to others (4.96/5).  These findings are borne out by several U.S. studies using both physiological measures and responses to questionnaires, which concluded that time spent with therapy dogs buffers the stress response in university students, regardless of previous pet ownership or their attitudes to dogs.


Carleton University offers students the opportunity to interact with therapy dogs through its Procrastination Busters program, which provides a quiet study space to help students “get things done.” Participants attend the program twice a week during academic terms, and dogs are there as additional motivators. One of these dogs is Dozer from Ottawa Therapy Dogs, along with his handler, Elise Laviolette.


Dozer is a mellow, Zen-like English bulldog who is a real draw for the 15 or so students in the group. Spending time with him is a reward they give themselves when they accomplish a goal. Because it is quite unusual to have an English bulldog as a therapy dog, the students love to take selfies with Dozer and post them on Instagram! They tell Elise that he calms them down and makes them happy to come to the group. Elise takes pleasure in being back in the university environment after 20 years, spending time with students and helping them achieve their goals. She has also noticed a change in Dozer since he started his university ‘gig’ — he has become more attuned to people and now seeks contact with them in all kinds of environments. It’s like “he knows his job is to be admired and petted,” she says, “and he loves it!”


As PsychologyToday.com concluded in a March 2018 post[1] by Stanley Coren, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, even a single contact with a therapy dog in a group setting is effective at reducing students’ stress, and the measurable positive effects last for hours afterwards. 

University students in Ottawa are very fortunate to have the chance to reduce their stress by visiting with Luther, Dozer and other wonderful therapy dogs. 


[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/canine-corner/201803/petting-away-pre-exam-stress-therapy-dogs-campus

Judy Beltzner has been a member of Ottawa Therapy Dogs since 2010. Currently an associate member, Judy is a past Director on Ottawa Therapy Dogs’ Board of Directors and was part of a therapy dog team with Tigger, a beautiful black lab – golden retriever cross. Tigger was born to be a guide dog and when seizures prevented him from pursuing that career, Judy determined that he could serve people in a different way.  He brought much comfort to hospitalized children and their families, and also loved being read to by children at local libraries as part of the Reading Education Assistance Dogs® (R.E.A.D.®) program.





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