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Kirkland librarian trains future leader dog

Published: Monday, Nov. 11, 2013 5:36 p.m. CST • Updated: Monday, Nov. 11, 2013 5:38 p.m. CST
(Rob Winner –
Banjo a 5-month-old Labrador retriever is seen behind the desk at the Kirkland Public Library on Monday, Nov. 11, 2013. Janet Miller of Kirkland will spend about a year teaching basic obedience skills and how to socialize before Banjo will be paired with a vision-impaired person.

KIRKLAND - The Kirkland Public Library has a new face -  a furry one.

Librarian Jan Miller and her husband, Steve, are training Banjo, a 5-month-old black Labrador retriever and potential future Leader Dog for the Blind. The couple has bred puppies for the program for about seven years, but this is the first puppy they've trained.

As part of her obedience training, Banjo goes to work with Miller at the library on Mondays and Tuesdays. Library Director Linda Fett encouraged library board members to approve the arrangement, which they did.

“The library board just told us to put the sign on the door in case a patron is afraid of dogs or has an allergy,” Fett said.

Miller said patrons are invited to interact with Banjo – after asking permission.

“If she’s going to be a Leader Dog, she has to learn to lie quietly under a desk," Miller said. "She may be going to work with her owner, and she has to know how to behave.”

Banjo also has gone shopping, visited restaurants and done other activities so she won't fear those type of environments.

“So far, the only thing she’s been afraid of is the open stairs at Cherry Vale Mall," Miller said. "We had to carry her up the stairs, but she was able to go down.”

Miller said she wants to take her on a train, too.

"We are told not to take her on escalators or in revolving doors," Miller said. "She could injure a paw or get her tail caught."

Along with attending an obedience class at Kanosak Canine Training in Maple Park, they receive weekly emails from Leader Dogs with very specific guidance for Banjo’s training, Miller said.

She also gets advice occasionally from a patron who has a service dog. Bonnie Lorensen is on her fourth dog, a golden Lab named Olive from Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

“I think I got my first dog in 2002," Lorensen said. "I love going to the library and hearing about Banjo.”

When she’s about 14 months old, Banjo will be turned over Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester Hills, Mich. There, her training will be geared more specifically to becoming a Leader Dog. Not all dogs turned over to the organization become Leader Dogs. She said some go on to become drug-sniffing dogs or companions for autistic children.

“It will be tough to give her up,” Miller said, stroking Banjo’s head. "We love her."

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