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Ann Lambert and Frances Holmes

As Ann Lambert and Frances Holmes reflect back on over 42 years of friendship, their shared passion to give back to the community through the work of Ottawa Therapy Dogs was a constant. From providing therapeutic support during visits as volunteers to maintaining the standards and practices of OTD as mentors and evaluators, Ann and Frances have been selflessly committing their time to contribute to the long-term sustainability of the organization.


Frances Holmes—owner of The Training Hall dog training facility—recounted first meeting Ann Lambert when Ann’s daughter was signed up for her obedience classes. Their friendship quickly flourished into four decades of memories filled with tennis matches, attending dog shows and becoming some of Ottawa Therapy Dogs’ first volunteers when it was first established as a chapter of Therapy Dogs International in 2000 before becoming its own registered charity in 2003. When the Founder of OTD, Marilyn Benoit, tragically passed away in 2007, Ann and Frances were among the core group of volunteers who mobilized efforts to ensure the organization could continue its work in the community.


Ann and Frances’ faces were aglow when reminiscing about their early years as handlers providing ‘pawsitive’ support at local facilities including The Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Centre and The Ottawa Hospital Rehabilitation Centre. For Frances, her most vivid memories were with a young non-verbal man whose first time ever verbalizing was during a visit with Sabrina, her Tibetan Terrier.

Frances Holmes

While leaving nurses in awe each time he yelled ‘Sabrina’ down the corridor, their friendship transpired into a powerful connection up to the point of his passing. Their undeniable bond reinforced the impact of therapy dog visits, and the unique level of support they can provide to those struggling with various degrees of physical or mental health challenges.


As a handler providing regular visits at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario for close to twenty years, Ann recollected many fond memories of meeting children who she had the opportunity to reconnect with as they grew up. In particular, she always remembered a boy with vibrant red hair who she first met with Jaz in 2015, and recently met again with Lark in 2023.


A highly-respected breeder of Golden Retrievers, Ann and her Goldens have been a source of happiness for children in the Paediatrics unit at CHEO through the dogs’ affectionate demeanour, and Ann’s natural knack to spread positivity to patients and their families. Whether she is dressing up to celebrate CHEO’s spirit days, sparking joy as a co-host at the CHEO telethon, or having one of her dogs perform a trick where they deliver a Kleenex from a bedside table, Ann and her furry companions have boosted the spirits of an immeasurable number of patients over the years.

Ann Lambert and Jaz visiting a patient at C.H.E.O.

Ann’s zeal for creating a positive impact in the lives of children in meaningful ways stemmed from her former career as a school teacher. As a Reading Education Assistance Dogs®(R.E.A.D.®) team at Stonecrest Elementary School, Ann has the opportunity to marry her passions for animal-assisted therapy with teaching and learning while advancing children’s literacy.


Up to now, Frances and Ann remain highly engaged with OTD, with Ann still serving as a volunteer handler, lead evaluator and mentor, and Frances providing both a facility for evaluations and sharing her extensive knowledge as a trainer through her role as a lead evaluator and member of OTD’s Standards and Practices Committee. As Ann says, “I still volunteer with Ottawa Therapy Dogs because of how rewarding it is.'' She continues, “I do it for the difference it makes in the lives of those we visit with.”

Ann with Milly, Lark and Bracken

Although following in the footsteps of volunteers like Ann and Frances may feel like big shoes to fill, they are both dedicated to supporting future generations of new volunteer teams who have a compassion for helping others.


From assisting with recruitment and evaluations, to mentoring teams as they make their first visits with patients, Ann and Frances’ unsurpassed commitment to therapy dog work is at the heart of the organization’s success in the community.


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Image Courtesy of The Ottawa Hospital

Article by The Ottawa Hospital


Six-year-old Copain wags his tail as he enters The Ottawa Hospital’s front doors. The sights, sounds and smells of a hospital could easily distract an ordinary dog—but not Copain. As one of several volunteer therapy dogs that visit The Ottawa Hospital, he and his K9 colleagues have an important job to do: help staff, patients and visitors manage the challenges of being in the hospital...Read the full story here!

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Written by Jenna Hobin

Melanie with Beans (Left) & Grits (Centre)

“When we volunteer, I find that dogs are naturally drawn to people who need support the most. They bring smiles to the faces of those who may be feeling lonely and down.” As a handler for her two dogs, Grits and Beans, Melanie Mohammed first got acquainted with Ottawa Therapy Dogs in 2011 at an event for the Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign. A new owner to a vibrant young border terrier who was a puppy at the time, Melanie recalls visiting Beth McKibbin and her majestic golden retriever to inquire about Grits’ potential to one day be a therapy dog himself.


Fast-forward two years, and Grits officially earned his way to becoming an Ottawa Therapy Dog after successfully passing his evaluation—a moment that sparked tears of joy for Melanie. For a former French teacher who now works in the field of human rights, Melanie’s innate compassion led her to go through the evaluation process again with her second dog in 2015. Adding Beans, her amiable chocolate lab, to the Ottawa Therapy Dogs’ family was Melanie’s way of bringing twice as much joy to those in need of comfort.


Grits, who is now 10 years young, has been a source of positive support for patients in a long-term care facility located in rural Ottawa for close to 8 years. His patience and composure enable him to visit with patients suffering from illnesses such as dementia, which make it difficult for them to engage in verbal conversations. In quiet contentment, Grits brings immediate happiness to those he meets.

Grits

For many patients, their family members may no longer know how to engage with them as an illness progresses, and others no longer have living family members or friends to visit them. Our Ottawa Therapy Dogs teams are their support system. As Melanie says, “My dogs help bring light in the day of those they interact with, and I wanted to contribute in this way.”


Beans, who is now 8 years old, is full of personality and thrives on the attention she gets from patients and their families. Her extroverted personality made her the ideal candidate to provide support to those in need of shorter-term care and higher levels of engagement. The profound impact of her visits was recently recognized by the family of a long-term care patient whose family recounted the memories of Melanie and Beans in their mother’s obituary following her passing.

Beans

For Melanie, one of the most meaningful aspects of being an Ottawa Therapy Dogs handler is seeing the smiles from those Grits and Beans have the opportunity to interact with, including staff members at the facilities.


As an avid believer in the therapeutic benefits brought by therapy dog visits, Grits and Beans have been a personal source of calm and comfort for Melanie herself. For her, bringing joy to others positively influences her own mental well-being by knowing that she and her dogs are able to leave a positive mark on those in need of support in such a meaningful way.


When Melanie, Grits and Beans aren’t busy counting down the days until they can return to in-person visits, they are enjoying walking, hiking and swimming at their rural home. She hopes that others consider joining the Ottawa Therapy Dogs team to help make a difference in our community. As Melanie says, “I would encourage people to reflect on how important their impact can be on the lives of the people they touch.” She continues, “Being a part of Ottawa Therapy Dogs can be life-changing, not only for the individual, but also by extending support to their families and loved ones.”

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