Those trying to turn their lives around at an Ottawa Salvation Army location are getting a little four-legged encouragement.

Ezekiel the border collie, or "Zeke" as some call him, has been visiting the Booth Centre for about four years with his owner and Salvation Army employee Ginny Kristensen.

“Christmas is hard for a lot of people,” she said.

“To be able to come and pet a dog and to experience that unconditional love…. For a lot of people that's the first time they've ever experienced that.”

”He doesn't use words like we do, but I think sometimes maybe he's even more effective than we are,” said Booth Centre executive director Marc Provost.

No formal therapy dog training

Mark Ernst said he came to the Booth Centre after having trouble with the law and said Ezekiel, or “Zeke”, has become a friend.

“When I first got here I was really stressed out, I didn’t know anybody and this dog honed right in on me,” he said, laughing.

Mark Ernst Salvation Army Therapy Dog

Mark Ernst said 'Zeke' came right up to him when he first came to the centre and knew nobody. (CBC)

“He can sense when something is wrong…. I just played with him for awhile. Put me at ease.”

While therapy dogs are becoming more and more common at stressful places such as universities and hospitals, Ezekiel is slightly different.

Kristensen said her pet has never been through formal dog therapy training before.

“He hasn't had any special training, although he's been evaluated and qualified through the Ottawa therapy dog program,” she said.

“It's something that he was born with.”