Katja, a chocolate English Labrador Retriever, is training to become Red Deer Public Library’s facility service dog. (Photo contributed)

Katja, a chocolate English Labrador Retriever, is training to become Red Deer Public Library’s facility service dog. (Photo contributed)

Training underway for Red Deer Public Library’s own service dog

Service dog to help children become better readers

Red Deer Public Library recently welcomed a four-legged staff member.

Katja, a chocolate English Labrador Retriever, has started her first year of training to become the library’s facility service dog to work with young visitors.

Over the years volunteers have brought their service dogs to the library, but Katja, who is almost 11 months old, will be the resident facility dog, possibly the first for any Alberta library, said Tatiana Tilly, strategic planning and community engagement manager.

“We’re researching all the possible applications that Katja can have in a variety of library programs. There are lots of potential opportunities,” said Tilly, who is one of Katja’s two handlers.

Red Deer Public Library has used therapy and service dog volunteers in programs like Reading Tails, Sit, Stay, Read, and the Reading Pals programs, to help children become better readers. But demand for the programs was huge, so the library looked at getting its own facility service dog.

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Tilly said Katja is not yet working with children. For now, she is getting used to being around people, practicing her best behaviour, and becoming familiar with the library branches.

“A big part of her first year of training is to be among people. In April, she started coming to the library just to be there.”

Currently, she is visiting Timberlands and Dawe branches three times a week. Gradually she will spend a full day at the library.

Anyone with questions about Katja is encouraged to ask her handler, but should not approach Katja without first asking her handler for permission.

During her second year of training, Katja will be taught specific tasks and start working with children. In about a year from now, once she becomes a certified service dog, Katja will be on the job full-time.

Aspen Service Dogs Inc., of Edmonton, is in charge of her dog service training and certification.

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Tilly said she has seen firsthand how dogs can put children at ease to make learning easier.

“There has been a lot of research about how dogs can help struggling readers overcome their fear of reading. (Dogs) don’t judge.

“For some kids, they really open up, some barriers come down. They become more relaxed. It really gives them a confidence boost.”

For those interested in following Katja’s progress, she has her own Instagram account at www.instagram.com/katjardplsdit.

“We record everything she is doing.”



szielinski@reddeeradvocate.com

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DogsRed Deer Public Library