Retrieving Freedom stops by CC Library with service dogs to help children read
By Kelly Terpstra, firstname.lastname@example.org
The relationship between a dog and human can be a special bond.
Keegan Birkicht and her service dog, Dexter, stopped by the Charles City Public Library last week.
Birkicht is the Iowa unit director for Retrieving Freedom, a non-profit organization that helps train service dogs to help wounded veterans and children with autism lead better lives.
The goal on Thursday was to allow Dexter — a 3½-month-old golden Lab — to interact with children to make them feel more at ease and comfortable about reading aloud, and to help with Dexter’s socialization training.
“The reason that we’re here is reading to service dogs can do a lot of things,” Birkicht said. “It’s a mutually beneficial relationship. The people that are reading to the service dogs are gaining confidence because dogs are not going to judge us when we read to them. They can’t correct us or laugh at us or anything.”
Birkicht, who lives in Charles City, has been involved with Retrieving Freedom since 2012.
The organization, which recently moved its headquarters to Sedalia, Missouri, was started in 2011 by Scott Dewey. Retrieving Freedom also has an office and training center in Waverly.
Retrieving Freedom receives dogs at 8 weeks old and they are placed by their second birthday. The organization has placed 112 dogs all over the country since its inception.
“Each dog is tailored to meet the specific needs of each individual. All dogs are taught different tasks depending on what the recipient needs,” said Birkicht.
She said the trained service dogs can help out veterans who are dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries or coping with flashbacks, enabling them to live more independently.
Dogs like Dexter can also save lives.
“Once they’re placed with somebody and that person says, ‘I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my service dog,’ that’s when the impact that you’ve been making over two years really testifies and says you just saved a life by raising this dog,” said Birkicht.
The animals can also relieve stress in autistic children. She said the service dogs can be a safety tether to keep children from running off or to allow them to stay in their beds longer.
The dogs can also make socializing much easier for an individual who may be dealing with anxiety or who has reservations about going out in public.
“They can be a social bridge for their peers and make friends easier,” said Birkicht.
Birkicht was just getting back Thursday from Sedalia, where she was representing Retrieving Freedom at the Missouri State Fair. Retrieving Freedom was also at the library on Aug. 8 to help out children or anyone who wanted to be comforted by the dogs.
“Any programs that we can go do or any people that we interact with on a daily basis out in the public – we want to help hundreds or thousands of people before that dog is placed,” Birkicht. “We want to benefit as many people as possible during their two years of training.”