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.


Kids on the autism spectrum are like colors in a rainbow. Depending on their abilities and their disabilities, every child is different.  Some may be intellectually brilliant but have limited social skills. Others may have anxiety or anger issues, communication disorders, or an intense aversion to certain sounds or textures. For some, even small, everyday changes to a routine can be upsetting. For others, there may be a tendency towards repetitive, sometimes bizarre, behaviors.


Later in their lives, if lucky, some of these kids with exceptional talents may excel and attend university. Others, less gifted intellectually or socially, will always be heavily reliant on support from their family and community. No matter the child however, many children on the autism spectrum in a program operated by the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) have been helped by a gentle giant of a therapy dog named Clarence. 



During his all-too-short life, Clarence was part of the Steps to Success Day Treatment Program, a community school focused on mental health and education operated in Ottawa’s east end by CHEO. Once a week, this dog and his volunteer handler, Mary Lou Trappitt, visited M.F. McHugh Education Centre together. The therapy dog team worked there with therapists to assist children, including those on the autism spectrum, with different treatment goals. Often, these focused on improving important behavioral, social and communication skills– maintaining good eye contact, asking questions, good listening skills and turn taking skills in a conversation, for instance.


Their pattern of weekly visits was always the same. Every Thursday, about 9:30 a.m., Mary Lou and Clarence– a white, wire-haired Spinone Italiano breed that is little known in North America– would make their way down the long hallway of the centre and up three flights of stairs to the workroom of Denise De Laat, a registered occupational therapist. Along the way, there were always multiple stops to greet the students, all with special needs.


“It could take awhile to get upstairs,” Mary Lou, a retired CHEO employee and great grandmother, fondly recollects. “The kids would always ask me, ‘Oh, do we get to see Clarence today. Is it our day?’”

Which students had a special visit with the therapy dog that day, sprawled out on a big mat in the workroom, depended on who most needed help. Some kids needed to relax and de-stress, as behavioral issues are common with autism.  “Some of the kids could be really hyper, real loud. Clarence never changed with them. Then they’d start to calm down, start to interact, start feeling better about themselves,” Mary Lou recounts.  


Each week, children of different ages visited Clarence two by two for visits of ten or fifteen minutes. Usually, eight to ten children shared time with Clarence before Mary Lou packed up to leave.  Some were afraid of dogs but Clarence helped them overcome their fears. Some rarely spoke to others but willingly asked questions about the dog. Others didn’t like human touch but willingly patted Clarence, or at least sat quietly next to the dog for a visit. Always, it was small steps forward, collaborating with the therapist.


She remembers one boy who didn’t like to be touched but could rhyme off countless details about domestic and wild animals, or wars. He always wanted to visit with Clarence and touch the dog. Another boy on the autism spectrum had many fears, including a fear of dogs. With Clarence, some of his fears were overcome.


“Clarence was quite a beautiful dog. He was also very low key. When a child was anxious or nervous, Clarence read the child very well. He’d move closer. He’d pause. He’d let the kids pat him, “ Denise De Laat remembers. “As he aged, he was even more low key.”


After three years of volunteering however, everything changed.  On December 27, 2017, Clarence needed an operation to remove a leg because of bone cancer. Soon after, get well cards, drawings and crafts for Clarence arrived from the students. After a successful surgery and rehabilitation, Mary Lou sent a video and a photo of her healthy-again three-legged dog to share with the school. Students and staff missed him and wanted him back. The response was overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. Clarence’s vet encouraged the team to return whenever the dog was ready.  So, C Clarence returned to work in February 2018 as a tri-pod. Even though he couldn’t manage the stairs anymore, a special workspace was set up for him on the main level of the school.



If a child asked, Mary Lou would say that Clarence had the same kind of cancer as Terry Fox, the young athlete and hero who courageously attempted to run across Canada and who passed away in 1981. The children better understood that way. With the Paralympic Games fast approaching, Clarence’s own disability helped students to better understand the games too. The kids once again eagerly awaited his visits, even though their once regular walks with Clarence happened less frequently now because of the slippery school floors.


Clarence continued to visit his kids until June 2018. The therapy dog died of cancer on August 17, 2018. “We made some good friends and met some wonderful people,” Mary Lou says. Children at the school met a good friend too. For many, Clarence will be fondly remembered.

 

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 Karen Luker


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'. 


What do Jenny, Aspen, Lia, Bracken, Chara and Jaz have in common?


They are just six of the many golden retrievers owned by breeder, Ann Lambert. What makes these Goldens special, however, is that their owner has been visiting children in local hospitals and schools with them for over 35 years and has been part of Ottawa Therapy Dogs (OTD) since it first began.


Long before dogs, horses, rabbits and birds were featured on social media as a complementary therapy, Ann recognized the power of animals to assist humans in a multitude of ways. As a former school teacher, she chose to share her dogs' love with children and first started visiting with the Golden Retriever Club and St. John Ambulance before excitedly joining Ottawa Therapy Dogs when it was established in 1999. Ann has been a handler with OTD ever since.


At least a few times a month, Ann can be spotted heading into the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) with one of her two current therapy dogs. In a special room on the fifth floor in Pediatrics, Ann and her dog welcome children with a variety of conditions ranging from cystic fibrosis to traumatic brain injury and eating disorders. She often breaks the ice by sharing a photo book she created for each of her dogs. Like a baby album, the books display each dog’s life beginning as a puppy with favourite activities or foods, and a few silly poses.

Chara leans in gently for a snuggle with a delighted young patient at CHEO. Photo credit: Lambert Photography

The children are quick to connect with both Ann and her therapy dog. "Some kids don't want to leave the visit,” she says, "and parents are grateful for the feeling of normalcy their children experience in the often frightening and unpredictable hospital setting."


Ann recalls a ten-year-old boy who was too sick to come to the therapy room. With special permission, Ann and Lia visited him in his hospital room. The boy could not see, hear, or move, so Ann placed Lia on his bed and took the boy's hand to gently stroke her. Although the boy showed no apparent awareness of Lia's presence, his nurses watched in astonishment as his heart rate dropped on the monitor next to his bed. While this is a well-known benefit of animal-assisted therapy, handlers themselves rarely get to see the dramatic effects documented on a screen.

Bracken III with her stethoscope and bandaged teddy waiting for children at CHEO’s Annual Teddy Bear Picnic. Photo credit: Julie Davies, Ottawa Therapy Dogs

Ann and her dogs can also be found at any one of CHEO's many community events including their annual teddy bear picnic where Ottawa Therapy Dogs teams up with Responsible Dog Owners of Canada (RDOC) for an important message. This partnership was originally spearheaded by Dr. Mary Jean Duncan, a plastic surgeon at CHEO, with the goal of reducing the number of children presenting in the ER with dog bites by using therapy dogs to teach children and their parents how to safely approach a dog.


Last year, Ann and Bracken III also showed up in their pyjamas to help calm children at CHEO’s annual flu clinic. And because not all children escape the nasty virus, Chara and Jaz have been trained to retrieve a tissue from a box whenever they hear a sneeze, a trick that never fails to prompt a giggle from hospitalized children.

Ann Lambert and Bracken III are dressed in pyjama’s to visit children at CHEO’s annual evening flu clinic.

"Children and dogs just go together", says Ann, who herself is always quick to establish a positive rapport with everyone, young and old. Michèle Taché, a child life specialist at CHEO who leads their pet therapy program, agrees.


"Ann is just so devoted to her dogs and to her visits at CHEO. Her dogs have a very special way. They are very patient and will stay in awkward positions for up to half an hour to adjust to the physical or emotional needs of the children and youth. Ann is wise and insightful; she can talk as much or as little as need be. She reads patients and their families well."


It's no surprise, then, that parents report their child smiling for the first time in days when they visit Ann with one of her therapy dogs. Or when children surpass their physiotherapy goals because of the extra motivation the dog provides. It's also common to see children more relaxed heading into surgery after spending time in the comforting presence of Ann and her dog.


Ann helped pioneer animal-assisted therapy at CHEO and she continues to act as a resource and mentor to new teams to ensure the success of this valuable program so Ottawa Therapy Dogs can play an important complementary role in children’s health care for many years to come.


 

Karen Luker has been a member of Ottawa Therapy Dogs since 2006. Currently an associate member, she visited the Bruyère Continuing Care Palliative Care Unitweekly for eight years with her miniature dachshund, Gogo. She is also the authorof "Un chien dans ma chambre? La médiation animale en soins palliatifs", published in Ces animaux qui aiment autrement (2015), a book on the many benefits of the animal-human bond.






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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.


For those of us who learned to read with Dick, Jane and their adorable dog, Spot, reading and dogs have always had a positive association. But back then, the idea of encouraging children to read with dogs to improve their reading skills was not yet on anyone’s radar. That changed for children in the National Capital Region in 2004 with the introduction of the Reading Education Assistance Dogs® (R.E.A.D.®) program under the umbrella of Ottawa Therapy Dogs.


Chantel Hutter and her Spaniel/Sheltie mix, Chelsea, were already a team with Ottawa Therapy Dogs when she came across Intermountain Therapy Animals and R.E.A.D. in the news. Chantel instantly knew that this was what she and Chelsea were meant to do, and after obtaining permission from the Western Quebec School Board for a pilot program, they soon became the first Canadian R.E.A.D. team. Chantel later qualified as a R.E.A.D. instructor through Intermountain Therapy Dogs in Utah and was instrumental in developing Ottawa Therapy Dogs’ R.E.A.D. program which currently has over 15 volunteer R.E.A.D. teams in local schools and libraries.


Sylvie Martel, who was a R.E.A.D. team with her previous Golden Retriever, Moxie, coordinates Ottawa Therapy Dogs’ library programs and often helps run the evaluations where therapy dogs and their handlers are tested for the R.E.A.D. program to see if they qualify to work with children – an extra level of testing in the career of a therapy dog team. These therapy dogs in particular need a special kind of calm, relaxed temperament so they are comfortable in a busy school environment which can often be noisy and chaotic. And even though many therapy dogs enjoy visiting room-to-room in hospitals, not all of them like to sit or lie still for long periods of times like Reading Education Assistance Dogs, who truly enjoy their time curling up with children and books and being read to with lots of hugs and petting. 


Tara (Rosemary Chisholm) settles in for a story and some cuddle time with a young reader at the Centennial branch (OPL). Photo credit: Brittany Veinot, www.PhoDOGapher.ca.

Rosemary Chisholm and her Golden Retriever, Tara, are familiar faces at the Centennial branch of the Ottawa Public Library as well as the Chelsea Library. Tara is always a huge hit with the children and it isn’t unusual for her to dress up for the occasion. In fact, her ‘regular readers’ will often arrived dressed up to read to her, too – like the princesses or heroes in the stories they enjoy. Andrea Gowing in Children’s Programs at Centennial is a very enthusiastic supporter of the R.E.A.D. program – perhaps because she herself struggled with reading as a child and has seen firsthand what therapy dogs can do. Dogs, she says, “lower blood pressure and are a calming influence … they don’t care about mistakes!” Their gentle, non-judgmental interaction with the children who read to them is what makes R.E.A.D. such a powerful program.


Handlers in OTD’s R.E.A.D. program are committed to improving literacy skills (in fact, several handlers have been teachers themselves) and are able to engage and communicate with the children at their level. The emphasis is on nurturing a connection between the child and the dog without the stress and pressure of being put on the spot. Any reading guidance from the handlers is given in the context of reading with the dog, such as “Tara doesn’t understand the word ‘tomorrow’ so let’s sound it out for her.”


Roxy (Alix Ranger) from Ottawa Therapy Dogs is a special reading companion for children at the Ruth E. Dickinson branch (OPL).

The program has also helped some children overcome their fear of dogs. Alix Ranger and her Boxer/Rottweiler mix, aptly named Roxy, is another of OTD’s ‘library dogs’ who visit the Ruth E. Dickinson library once a month for a weekend R.E.A.D. program. Alix has special memories of a young boy who was clearly afraid of Roxy at first and sat as far away as he could with his book. Over time, however, he started to come closer and closer, although he still approached Roxy from the tail end instead of where her teeth were! When he finally got up the courage to pet her, he was delighted by how soft she was, how gentle, how sweet – and not only was his fear gone, he didn’t want to leave her!


Parents appreciate the opportunity for their children to read in a warm, welcoming and supportive environment as part of this unique literacy initiative by Ottawa Therapy Dogs. Elizabeth Fosbery, in Children’s Programs at the Ruth E. Dickinson branch, echoes her colleague, Andrea Gowing’s experience with the R.E.A.D. program at Centennial and both librarians also that note the benefits of the program aren’t limited to simply reading — Andrea says that even older children have practised school presentations to the dogs (who wag their tails in approval!). 


Studies by UC Davis, a world leader in cross-disciplinary research at the University of California, found that children who read to a dog for 10 weeks — as students in Ottawa Therapy Dogs’ R.E.A.D. programs in schools do — improved their reading skills by 12 percent (in the first study) and 30 percent (in the second). And that’s not all: “…75 percent of parents reported that their children read aloud more frequently and with greater confidence after the study was completed.” 1


The clear conclusion is that while fear of failure — and the embarrassment that may come with it — is human, dogs as reading companions help by just being themselves. They don’t judge, they don’t laugh and they don’t apply any pressure – and children benefit enormously by reading to a friend who happens to be overflowing with unconditional love – and covered in fur.


 1 https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/reading-rover-does-it-really-help-children-veterinary-school-says-‘yes’/

 

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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