Alberta MLA brings first service dog into a Canadian legislature

Quill, a hearing service dog for Alberta MLA Heather Forsyth. October 28, 2013.
Quill, a hearing service dog for Alberta MLA Heather Forsyth. October 28, 2013. Supplied, Heather Forsyth

EDMONTON – Calgary-Fish Creek MLA Heather Forsyth introduced her service dog Quill on Monday as the first service dog to be brought into a legislative assembly in Canada.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Forsyth said about Quill making history.

“Service dogs fit into any working environment,” she said. “I happen to be an elected representative who sits in the legislature. Other service dogs, obviously, are in offices. So to him, this is an office.”

Forsyth, the Wildrose health critic, has had a hearing impairment for about ten years. She suffered nerve damage, and cannot hear certain sounds and struggles to hear from certain directions.

“I don’t hear anybody – if someone’s trying to get my attention – behind me, so we’re hoping that he will pick up that sound because you can imagine how noisy it can get in there. So if one of my colleagues behind me, or, for example if Raj or even Laurie Blakeman are trying to get a hold of me, I can’t hear them.”

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She contacted the Lions Foundation of Canada in May and was introduced to Quill, a two-year-old miniature poodle.

As Forsyth’s service dog, Quill listens for important sounds – like someone calling her name – and alerts her by reaching out his paws.

“He’s currently trained on eight sounds: the door bell, door knocking, my cell phone… the oven timer, the alarm clock, the security system in our house, the fire alarm.”

“When he picks up the sound, he will come up to me and go ‘pat pat’ and takes me directly to the sound,” explained Forsyth.

If someone calls Forsyth’s name, Quill will let her know and direct her to that person.

“He spins when there’s a fire alarm. To let me know ‘this is really serious, you really have to pay attention.’”

Monday was Quill’s first day at work at the Alberta legislature. He sat under Forsyth’s desk and was quite at ease. But, Forsyth said he was startled when politicians started thumping their hands on their desks during debate.

However, Forsyth said Quill soon settled down, and is adjusting to this role.

“He, quite frankly, has been a real joy and blessing in my life.”

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Wildrose MLA Heather Forsyth and her service dog Quill. October 28, 2013. Supplied, Wildrose Party

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