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‘For the Love of Dogs’: Celebrating Over Two Decades of Volunteerism

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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