St Norbert College has become the first school in Western Australia to welcome a resident guide dog, with black Labrador Loui officially joining the Class of 2021.
After two school terms of training, Loui has officially graduated as St Norbert student Tegan Reder’s constant companion.
Loui has opened a new world of independence for his “mum” who is in her final year at the College and is loving the freedom she has gained to navigate the campus more easily.
Three-year-old Loui was trained at St Norbert College in Terms 3 and 4 during 2020 as Tegan studied Year 11 ATAR.
“We were so excited about this opportunity for Tegan – it was like Loui was becoming part of our family,” Principal Mr Simon Harvey said.
“The shared efforts of Tegan, her family and friends, College staff and the staff of Guide Dogs Association has been so pivotal in preparing the way for such a terrific relationship.
“We hosted a meeting for staff to be informed about it all, there was a lengthy and still ongoing connection with trainer Katie and the Guide Dogs WA team to ensure all is appropriate. We informed our students and parents about Loui being on-campus and the expectations and we posted signs for our students to remind them of these expectations, most notably that Loui is at work and must be left to do his work.
“Our students have been fantastic – every now and then they need reminders about leaving Loui alone, but that is incredibly difficult. We all love him and have to be really conscious not to pat him or snuggle up.
“Tegan is a terrific student, so dedicated to achieving at the highest level in all that she does. Tegan is a role model to other students of the highest calibre, managing to balance a wide range of commitments and still achieving excellent academic results. She actively participates in all that the College offers and puts the needs of others before herself. She is a highly respected and co-operative student. To say that we are incredibly lucky to have Tegan in our community is a massive understatement. Our staff and students are in awe, and often in tears of sheer pride, at her achievements.”
Throughout 2020, Guide Dogs WA trainer Katie Crawford supervised Tegan and Loui’s teamwork, along with the tireless support of St Norbert Education Support assistant Ms Natalie Hodge.
“Tegan is active and required a dog like Loui that could keep up with her busy lifestyle,” Ms Crawford said. “She also needed a dog like Loui that settles quietly so she can concentrate during school time in the classroom. Loui and Tegan naturally walk at the same pace too. They have developed a very close bond and have grown in confidence together.
“It’s quite hard work for a dog to work through and around crowds and takes a lot of confidence. It is also very different to guiding on regular routes that Loui was trained on which have streets, pavements and kerbs. The school environment has open spaces and no definite pathways to follow, which made it more challenging for Loui to learn. There were also lots of destinations for him to learn, such as Tegan’s locker and all the classrooms, which was challenging. The students have played a part in being supportive by ignoring Loui and allowing him to safely guide Tegan without being distracted.’’
Tegan’s mum, Mrs Kathryn Reder, added: “Loui has brought a whole new love into our life. He is such a wonderful companion for Tegan and is always keeping us laughing at his antics and funny little cries that he is always letting out when Tegan leaves the room. When going out as a family, like school life, Tegan is able to walk independently alongside us and seems to be so proud of her little man.
“St Norbert College has always been 100 per cent supportive of not only Tegan receiving Loui and having him in the school environment, but also the support when Tegan needs time to deal with her studies, there is always someone on hand to ‘dog-sit’. Overall, St Norbert College has been supportive of all of Tegan’s needs over the years and I couldn’t have asked for a better school to assist my daughter to become the independent, inspirational young lady that she has evolved into.”
Tegan says the best thing about having Loui with her at school is that she can now navigate the campus confidently and independently and have more self-assurance.
“I can more easily make my way through crowds of students and can more easily locate my classes quickly and efficiently,” Tegan said.
“The most challenging aspect of training Loui for school life has been teaching him to ignore distractions. In a school environment, there are large numbers of students all moving in different directions, no clear footpaths or roads for Loui to follow (there are many ways he can go) and there is sometimes food on the ground. Training Loui to ignore the other students was particularly challenging as Loui enjoys human company and so would often seek the attention of others. It was also challenging to persuade Loui to ignore the food scraps, leaves and other items that had been dropped around the school as Loui would often attempt to eat or play with these when working in harness.
“Loui is very puppy-like in his behaviour off harness. He is excitable and likes to run, swim and play. Loui loves squeaky toys and will often run crazily around the house carrying multiple toys in his mouth. In class however, Loui’s personality changes dramatically. In class and while on harness, Loui becomes calm and quiet. He is not excited easily and will sit or lie still for long periods of time: something that he is unlikely to do when off lead.”
Tegan and Loui were introduced when Tegan attended a ‘test drive a guide dog’ workshop at Visability in July 2019.
“When the instructors brought in the dogs, Loui was immediately the most crazy and energetic, bouncing around the room from one person to the next,” Tegan says. “When I was introduced to Loui and given the opportunity to brush him and take him out for a walk, I instantly knew that I wanted him as my guide dog. Loui became immediately attached to me and refused to go to another teenager who was also being introduced to him.’’