The Team & Board

Barb and Pilot the Dog

Citizen of hope!

Barb Ashmead

Barb has a BSc. and a MSc. She has co-owned Qualicum Pet Food & Cat Rescue for the past 25 years. Barb was approached in 2013 by CFB Comox to help train a veteran and his dog to be a service dog team. So began the great adventure. That year Barb co-founded Vancouver Island Compassion Dogs in Qualicum Beach, BC. In 2019, Barb decided to create another program – one that still used rescue dogs but included first responders and non-veterans in addition to veterans. In March 2020 Barb, along with Mary and Ellen began Operation Freedom Paws Canada.

Ellen and Tui the Dog

Citizen of hope!

Ellen Suettler

Ellen retired from the Nanaimo Lifeline Program as the Call Centre Manager in 2017. Her husband was a Veteran diagnosed with PTSD in 2015 and graduated with a service dog in 2017. He passed away shortly after. His dog Tui became Ellen’s companion. Looking for a purpose and the compassion for the dogs and the need supporting veterans to help them to integrate back into the community lead her to start working with Barb Ashmead who was starting a new service dog school. In November of 2019 she travelled with the team to OFP in Gilroy California. It was there that she fell in love with the training program and has been learning new skills to help the program get under way .

Icon of a Person and their Dog

Training is currently performed in Fanny Bay, BC while the team pursues a permanent location. The end goal is a property complete with kennels, an indoor training area and meeting rooms for peer support, spousal support and anything else that might help those in need of a sanctuary or place of safety.



Our Board

Ellen Suettler (Nanaimo, BC​) – Chair & Treasurer

Julianne Marie Thorne (Parksville, BC) – Secretary

Brianna Dianne DeGirolamo (Victoria, BC) – Director

Brian Cameron (Courtenay, BC) – Director

Robert Buckley (Comox, BC) – Director

Marti McKinley (Nanaimo, BC) – Director

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