Honouring the Heart of a Gentle Giant

Aspen Lake and the volunteer pairing of Kenya and Gary Williams

The day Gary Williams retired after nearly two decades of service in auto manufacturing, Kenya came into his life. A friend of a friend suddenly had to move, and they couldn’t take their gentle three-year-old South African Bull Mastiff with them. Just a short time before, Gary and his wife said goodbye to their beloved pet of 15 years and Gary says it was like Kenya was meant to come into their lives at just that moment.   

Kenya and Gary visit residents at Aspen Lake
Kenya, along with her best friend Gary, have been regular
fixtures at Aspen Lake, brightening the spirits of
residents and team members alike

“She filled a void,” Gary says, and after a couple of years spent with Kenya they came to realize she might do the same for others. At the same time, Gary needed to find an outlet for his energy; retirement, he admits, can sometimes leave empty space and time and he was looking for some way to fill it. His wife suggested the St. John’s Ambulance Pet Therapy training course and now, nearly five years and 257 hours later, Kenya is retiring from her regular role as the “gentle giant” volunteer of Aspen Lake. Gary and Kenya were fixtures in the heart of the Village, connecting with team members and residents every Tuesday morning since the summer of 2012.

“I met some of the most fantastic people that I can say I’ve met in my life,” Gary says, of the community at Aspen Lake, admitting that both he and his closest friend keenly felt every loss that occurred when the inevitable came to call.

“There were a couple of individuals she was really close to and both of them passed on,” Gary recalls. “When we went back to visit, Kenya knew what rooms they were in but she just ran right past them – she didn’t want anything to do with that room any more.”

“I was really sceptical getting into this program,” Gary says, looking back to when he first began volunteering alongside Kenya. “They said you’d be surprised at the look on the residents’ faces and the staff’s faces when you bring the dog in and I thought, well that’s just a bunch of malarkey. After about the second visit there, it was just amazing.”

The deep, meaningful connections they forged with everyone in the village, however, are what made both Kenya and Gary such excellent volunteers, and their regular visits will be sorely missed.  

But Gary offers assurances that while their visits may be less frequent, they still intend to come when they can. As she ages, Kenya’s mobility may be hindered but her heart still holds immense capacity for love, and Gary imagines they’ll drop into the village, if only to sit along Main Street or in the library to visit people passing by.

“It’s not like we’re erasing them from our memories, because that will never happen,” Gary says.