Darius, a golden retriever-Labrador mix, is like many other dogs in that he knows how to lie down upon command.

Unlike many other dogs, Darius can stay down for four hours if he's not told to get up -- one example of the specialized service-dog training he received via Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit organization that soon will be based in New Albany.

Instead of working with one person, Darius serves the New Albany-Plain Local School District, primarily as a way to motivate students to learn, said his handler, Jon Hood, director of student services, safety and security.

Hood first worked with Canine Companions while he was an elementary principal with Bexley City Schools, he said. He received Darius after his first service dog, Glazier, died at 10 years old, he said.

When he began working for New Albany-Plain Local in August 2018, Darius came with him.

Now Darius sits in classrooms with students who are told the dog can stay as long as everyone is working hard, Hood said.

Darius also sits in with a counselor at New Albany Intermediate School who works with students in grades 4 to 6 to help them feel more comfortable talking, he said.

Darius is able to help students who are having bad days, or students who need to practice reading out loud, Hood said.

Service dogs are a boon to students on the autism spectrum who might struggle to refocus for an entire day after something disruptive to a routine, such as a fire drill, he said.

"These dogs are just miraculous in terms of helping those students reengage," he said.

Though Darius is now a fixture on the New Albany-Plain Local campus, the nonprofit organization responsible for his training soon will be a fixture in the community, too.

Canine Companions is in the midst of constructing a three-building facility at 7480 New Albany-Condit Road, said Megan Koester, executive director for Canine Companions' North Central Region.

The project, which costs $21 million for design, construction and the land purchase, will replace the North Central Region's facility in Delaware at 4989 state Route 37 E., Koester said.

The regional training center in Delaware, which opened in 1990, is 7,880 square feet, but the New Albany facility will be just over 54,000 square feet, Koester said. The old campus will be sold after the organization moves, she said.

The New Albany campus is expected to open at the end of 2020, she said, though the buildings are expected to be completed by fall of that year.

"We need to make sure everything is up and running before we move staff and dogs to a new facility," Koester said.

The Delaware facility averages between 50 to 60 dogs on site at any time, she said. The new facility in New Albany will accommodate up to 96 dogs, she said, although the number of dogs will increase gradually.

Canine Companions breeds Labradors and golden retrievers for health and longevity, Koester said. Most of the dogs are a cross of the two breeds, she said.

Dogs are born in homes of volunteer breeder caretakers in and around Sonoma County, California, Koester said. The organization's headquarters are in Santa Rosa, California, along with a veterinary team.

Puppies stay in their volunteer homes for eight weeks, after which they receive a wellness check at the organization's vet clinic, she said. The animals are taught about 30 commands and are socialized before going to a regional training center for more professional training for six to nine months, she said.

With their training, Canine Companions service dogs help children, adults and veterans with a variety of disabilities, though not blindness, Koester said. The dogs can help with daily tasks, such as opening and closing doors, turning lights on and off, picking up dropped items or tugging a laundry basket, she said.

People interested in a service dog must complete an online application on the Canine Companions website, cci.org, detailing the services they are looking for in a dog, Koester said.

After a phone interview and the receipt of a letter from a medical provider, Canine Companions bring the applicant to a training center for an interview, she said.

Applicants don't have to be dog handlers -- Canine Companions can teach them those skills, Koester said. Applicants are placed on waiting lists and typically wait about a year to be matched with a dog, after which they attend a two-week class that culminates in a graduation, she said.

One of the benefits of the New Albany facility, Koester said, is that it will include six guest rooms that are handicap accessible for students and caregivers as a free place to stay during those two weeks of training.

The facility also will include a veterinary clinic, she said.

The organization has 25 full-time employees in Delaware who will move to the New Albany facility, Koester said, and another two to three full-time employees will be hired initially upon the facility's opening.

"We're just excited to be a neighbor in the community and look forward to working with all of our neighbors as a new opportunity for community engagement and employee engagement," she said.

New Albany spokesman Scott McAfee said city officials don't yet have estimates for how much revenue the new campus would generate for the city.

The city typically has revenue-generation figures for companies that seek financial incentives to locate in New Albany, but Canine Companions didn't receive any incentives, he said.

ssole@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSarah