Red Deer Victims’ Services introduced a chill new therapy dog to the city Thursday.
Harley the Labrador retriever couldn’t be rattled, despite all the cameras and crowds gathered on the second floor of City Hall for a welcome session with police and the mayor.
Insp. Dean LaGrange joked announcing Harley’s arrival “could be the most exciting media event that the RCMP will have this year.”
Yet, the black pooch stayed as calm as you would expect of a dog who will be helping children and other victims of crime, cope with the high emotions that can come with navigating the criminal justice system.
LaGrange said he knows from working with the Calgary Police Service what a great resource therapy dogs are for crime victims who feel anxious about being interviewed by police, or nervous at testifying in court.
The two-year-old dog certainly made a positive impression with several city councillors and Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer, who presented him with new tags at no charge, in deference to Harley’s pending service to the city.
Handler Susan Bontje, who works with the RCMP’s Victims’ Services Unit, said Harley’s laid-back personality and sense of empathy make him a natural therapy dog.
He was initially trained to become a seeing-eye dog for the blind, but couldn’t cut it, since he didn’t like pushing doors open with his nose. His good nature made him a shoe-in as a therapy dog, however, so he was retrained to assist crime victims. Bontje said she feels lucky Harley gets to sleep at her house.
Although he only started his service in Red Deer Monday, Harley has already accompanied two children to court this week, and sat through a test interview session at the Children’s Advocacy Centre. Bontje feels he handled himself calmly and professionally.
Red Deer’s mayor and police representatives thanked everyone who made it possible for Michigan-born Harley to move to this city for work – primarily the 2017 graduating class at Notre Dame High School, which raised $38,000 towards the cost of the trained dog, and for his future maintenance.
The dog was being taken to the school later Thursday to practice soothing people during a mock disaster.