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Meet one of the therapy dogs helping Yellowknife’s kids to read

Yellowknife, NWT – Saturday, for Keeper, is reading day.

Keeper is about to turn eight years old, and spends his Saturday mornings browsing through Yellowknife public library’s wide range of children’s books.

Keeper is a golden retriever.

“It took him a few years to channel his exuberance before he entered the program,” says owner Lin Maus, with a laugh, as Keeper reaches the end of another Saturday session.

Maus and Keeper, pictured above, are part of TAILS, a program which uses therapy dogs to help children read.

If your child has trouble reading – or is simply a little scared of animals – 20 minutes with Keeper can be a big help.

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“Keeper is just non-judgmental,” explains Maus. “Most of the time that they’re reading, they have a hand on his head, or paw, or shoulder. It’s just the confidence of having something quiet and reassuring beside them.

“It’s very helpful for children who struggle with the idea that reading is something that is difficult to do, because people are looking at you and assessing you while you’re reading. This is totally non-judgmental.

“Some people bring their children because they are more-or-less frightened of dogs or unsure around them. He puts them at their ease very quickly, and we get down to reading.”

Maus has been involved in TAILS for four years, first with another golden retriever – “she was very gentle, and loved people” – and now with Keeper.

TAILS participants
Some more TAILS participants in Yellowknife. Photo: Yellowknife Public Library

She is among a small band of four volunteers helping the library to offer these Saturday sessions.

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When it’s their turn, Maus and Keeper host three back-to-back 20-minute sessions in the early afternoon. Each session can be for an entire family, or for an individual – always accompanied by a parent.

The program is popular and places go quickly. There is no cost involved, and bookings are taken through the library.

“I have the fun of having the kids here reading,” says Maus. “As a dog owner, who loves a dog, there’s nothing nicer than having somebody else adore your dog, too.”

Could your dog be like Keeper?

Does your dog have what it takes to be a therapy dog? Lin Maus’s advice:

“It could be any dog. They have to be over a year old and go through the original St John’s Ambulance testing to be a therapy dog, then there’s a second level to make sure they can work successfully with kids. So there’s a bit of a process.

“Basically, what you’re looking for is a dog that’s unflappable. If there’s a loud noise, they won’t get distressed, they recover quickly, and are willing to have kids poke or prod them.

“Your dog has to be in good health, with a veterinary certificate that says there are no health or temperament concerns, they have to be updated on their shots, and the person with the dog has to be over 18 with a criminal record check.”

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