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Nellie the therapy dog offers a welcome comfort to patients

Nellie the therapy dog offers a welcome comfort to a patient

Patient Erin Grasmeyer shared a laugh with Nellie, the therapy dog, at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre.

Some dogs can do so much more than fetch a bone; some can help others in need.

Nellie is an 11-year-old Collie and a volunteer at The Ottawa Hospital. With some help from her handler, Claire Laroche, Nellie visits The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre regularly to help lift patients’ spirits.

“What makes Nellie special is the fact that she gets it. She feels people’s anger or pain. She actually calms them immediately,” said Laroche.

Therapy dogs are different from service dogs because they interact with a variety of people, rather than just their handlers

During her two years as a volunteer at The Ottawa Hospital, Nellie has helped many people in need, including 18-year-old Erin Grasmeyer. Erin was diagnosed with stage 4 Rhabdomyosarcoma, a kind of cancer that affects soft tissue. A CT scan revealed that she had a tumor in her chest and another in her abdomen.

Erin is responding to treatment at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre and part of her experience is spending quality time with Nellie. Nellie continues to help lift Erin’s spirits, as Erin focuses on planning for her future.

“When you get cancer, you kind of have to adjust to this new normal. There is a life outside of it, and you do things to make it normal for you. Having a dog around is one of those things,” said Erin.

Laroche said that animals can help take a person away from their pain or illness for a moment. After their visits with Nellie, patients often become much calmer and stronger.

Hospitals and other health-care organizations have used animal-assisted therapy for years as a way to help support patients undergoing medical treatment or other people under stress. Therapy dogs came to the Civic Campus trauma bay and Intensive Care Units after the hospital declared a Code Orange in response to the collision that took place at Westboro bus station. At a time where both patients and staff needed comfort, therapy dogs were ready for pets, hugs and smiles.

“People have a story to share. The client is sharing their story with the dog,” said Laroche. “There’s a magical connection between a person and a dog.”

Many patients have shared their stories with Nellie over the years. Some have even sung to her. No matter their health situation, when patients see Nellie and feel her angelic personality, they simply smile and feel a sense of relief.


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