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Business of the Month: Ottawa Therapy Dogs

Another month has arrived! At The Doxie Press’s HQ that means we are introducing a new Business of the Month and this month we are headed to Ottawa, Canada! We will be helping a charity spread the word about their amazing work throughout October. The beautiful doxie Gogo and her mummy Karen are volunteers for Ottawa Therapy Dogs and we will leave it to Karen to explain what they do.

When a patient I was visiting in the hospital referred to Gogo’s ears as “little angel wings”, I knew we had found our calling. My name is Karen Luker, and I have been a volunteer with Ottawa Therapy Dogs for 8 years. Truth be told, Gogo, my 11-year-old dachshund, is the volunteer; I’m just her driver. Gogo has been visiting a palliative care unit since she was just 3 years old. Every Monday, she dons her red scarf, trots into Bruyère Continuing Care in Ottawa, Ontario, and finds her way to the 5th floor, where smiles and open arms await.

gogo at work

Gogo visits the palliative care unit, where she brings comfort to patients and their families.

Ottawa Therapy Dogs is a registered charity that was established in 1999 by a retired nurse, Marily Benoit, and a practicing speech-language pathologist, Julianne Labreche. They shared a vision to bring animal-assisted therapy and activities to hospitals and other centres in the Ottawa area, while upholding the highest standards of practice and meeting the wide-ranging needs of the community.

Today, Ottawa Therapy Dogs has 110 dog/handler teams visiting over 60 different facilities. These include hospitals, treatment centres and nursing homes. In recent years, the organization has added schools, libraries and university programs to the list of organizations that regularly request and benefit from its services. It seems that everyone wants a crack at spending time with our gentle pooches.

How does it work?

Pet visitation has been well-documented to provide physical, emotional, social and cognitive benefits to individuals who are vulnerable or otherwise struggling with illness, stress, and many other conditions. Pet therapy has been shown to be effective where many other therapies have failed. Just think of the feeling you get when you come home to your own dog – the day’s problems seem to wash away, and your feeling of well-being is reestablished. That is the goal of our visits.

Once they have successfully completed a rigorous evaluation process, a dog and his/her handler make up a team. The evaluation includes a two-hour assessment in the presence of trained assessors and other would-be teams, references and police checks, and an orientation and mentoring process. Teams are then assigned to a facility, where they attend on a regular basis. There are strict grooming and preparation standards to which teams must adhere.

Visits are generally informal and are meant to provide an enjoyable break from what may otherwise be a stressful or lonely day for clients. The presence of a dog is often just an icebreaker; rapport is quickly established and a supportive exchange generally follows. There are added benefits, or course: lowered heart and respiration rate, decrease in the perception of pain, to name a few. Dogs can also be included in therapy. For example, someone who may be learning to walk again might find it more enjoyable to participate in physiotherapy exercises when accompanied by a companion at the end of a leash. Children who struggle with their reading find it calming and often more rewarding to read to a non-threatening canine listener.

gogo read

Gogo listens attentively as a student reads one of her favourite books.

Is Gogo always on the job?

People often ask where therapy dogs eat and sleep when they aren’t working. This is where therapy dogs differ from service dogs. Therapy dogs are just like regular pets, except that they have a part-time job. When they aren’t visiting – visits are on average once per week for one to two hours – therapy dogs live with their owners, and enjoy the life of an ordinary dog. They go for walks, chase the ball (or squirrels, in Gogo’s case!), and engage in the usual canine antics. They have doggie friends and play dates, and sleep in their owners’ warm house – often in their owners’ bed! As a dachshund, Gogo knows she doesn’t have to tell readers where she can be found at night 🙂

Gogo with Nikki

Gogo is a regular dog – here she is pictured with her bestie Nikki

Getting serious about her work

Gogo recently accepted an additional responsibility – she was the poster dog for a fundraising event to help support the organization. Ottawa Therapy Dogs held its first annual Sniff N’ Search, where participants and their dogs competed in a scavenger hunt to find clues that led to Gogo’s hiding place – yes, she was the hidden treasure!

Online poster

Sniff N’ Search raised much-needed funds for the organization, as Ottawa Therapy Dogs is unable to meet the demand for services. With only one part-time staff person to coordinate the entire operation, increasing the number of active teams is just impossible at the moment. This is extremely unfortunate, as we currently have over 30 facilities on our waiting list, and there are volunteers with dogs that want to help. And the demand is continuing to grow – with increased awareness of mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and the popularity of the reading program, Ottawa Therapy Dogs refuses requests for assistance on a daily basis. As with most charities, sustainable funding is always a challenge.

The Sniff N’ Search event was fun for all, and Gogo was called upon to attend both TV and radio interviews – she took her job very seriously, and made the organization proud (not a single bark!). The media attention will hopefully increase the community’s understanding of our needs and generate additional support. In the meantime, keen canine participant Alfie managed to snag the Sniff N’ Search cup in record time!


Alfie enjoying the ceremonial drink from the cup

The fun never stops!

Ottawa Therapy Dogs volunteers never rest, though. They have been hard at work preparing their next fundraiser, which is an annual dinner and silent auction on November 5th. This year’s event will include a murder mystery dinner entitled “Death Goes to the Dogs” – Gogo says she isn’t going anywhere near that one (she likes dinner, but not the mystery part!). She does invite everyone in the Ottawa area to attend. She would even like to challenge the Ottawa Dachshund Lovers Group to reserve a table – those doxie owner smarts are sure to take the prize!

For more information about Ottawa Therapy Dogs, please visit www.OttawaTherapyDogs.ca. If you cannot participate in events, you are welcome to donate any amount you can by “pawing” the donate button on the website. Charitable tax receipts are provided.

And that, my friends, is how Gogo’s cookie crumbles.

gogo otd

Isn’t is fantastic work they do!? We think Gogo has a very important job and imagine all the cuddles she must be getting every time she volunteers. I think I would love a job like that!

Be sure to like and check out their Facebook page too – you can find them here! And please help spread the word about what they do by sharing their posts and ours posts throughout October.

That’s how the doggie biscuit crumbles!


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