In a colourful corner of Central Saanich, a passionate teacher is bringing books to life for her students.
Teacher-librarian Sarah Windle runs Keating Elementary’s Red Cedar Book Club and regularly invites guest speakers to talk to the children. She believes that bringing inspiration into the classroom helps the students make a connection between what they read and the wider world.
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Recently the students have read three books, by Canadian authors, about service dogs and “animal heroes” so it was a treat when Samantha Jagt, puppy training supervisor of BC and Alberta Guide Dogs, came in with two of her charges, Rowdy and Amber, last week.
BC and Alberta Guide Dogs produced 70 puppies and graduated 34 last year, with the dogs performing roles such as PTSD support, autism support and working as traditional guide dogs. She hopes to produce 80 and graduate 44 this year.
“Samantha did a wonderful presentation for the kids about the role the dogs will play, how they are raised and trained, what type of dogs are used and why, how to approach or act around a service dog and much more,” says Windle. “The children had lots of great questions and were very engaged in learning more about the program and the dogs.”
Jagt was accompanied by volunteers and her presentation explained the work she does supervising 23 puppies placed around Vancouver Island. After her talk, she gave puppy bookmarks to the kids and let them pet the animals.
She says she enjoys interacting with the community, such as giving school talks, as the need for her organization’s puppies’ services is so great that all three areas of PTSD, autism and guide dogs are heavily oversubscribed. She hopes that with more awareness, people will volunteer or help financially to assist them meet these needs.
“The kids were wonderful. They were all very respectful to not interact with the dogs, even though they were sitting on the floor quite close to them, and at the end we opened it up for some meet-and-greet time and they went up two by two. They asked very insightful questions,” says Jagt.
Fighting your natural urge to coo over the dogs is something Jagt says is vital for the dogs to do their work effectively. (Serial public dog petters look away now.)
“You don’t want to rush up to a dog that’s working and pet it. It is working and you don’t want to interrupt it. The best thing to do when you see them is to ignore them, don’t touch and also don’t talk to them,” she says.
The book club has been the vehicle for a number of exciting guest presentations, such as one in March, when two young techies from UVic’s Victoria Hand Project demonstrated robotic prosthetic limbs. It wraps up this week, with the children voting for their favourite book.
To volunteer, donate or sponsor a puppy visit bcandalbertaguidedogs.com.