Linda Geist's third-grade class at Rose Hill Elementary School has gone to the dogs. Well, to one dog, in particular.
Bayley, a 5-year-old, 57-pound mixed breed -- part fox terrier and part boxer -- spends most school days working alongside Geist at Rose Hill, 760 Rosehill Road.
"Bayley has taken to her job with pure joy. The children love her and she loves them," said Geist, who also has taught at Baldwin and French Run elementary schools during her 31 years with the district.
Although in her first year of service, Bayley has become part of the school. Visitors to Geist's class are offered treats to take back to Bayley upon checking in at the front office.
"Oh, you're here to see Bayley," school secretary Susan Lawrence said while opening a drawer and grabbing a bag of dog snacks. "She'll love it if you bring her a couple."
Bayley didn't disappoint as she was waiting in the hallway, just outside the classroom, and politely sat after catching a whiff of the treats.
Solidifying her place in the school, Bayley will be in the yearbook and class picture, according to Geist.
"It's like having a class pet," she said. "Except she has a purpose."
Bayley's calming effect has been felt by Geist's students.
"Last year we didn't have Bayley, and sometimes everyone would be (loud)," said Jaicere McCutcheon, one of Geist's students. "It's better with Bayley."
"When Mrs. Geist reads out loud to us, Bayley comes and lays with us and we can pet her," classmate Christian Martinez-Morales said.
"And she likes to lick our faces!" Jaicere quickly added.
Nursing homes, hospitals and schools across central Ohio have been using therapy dogs for years. The Franklin County Sheriff's Office launched the state's first law-enforcement therapy-dog program in 2017 and has expanded it to three dogs.
Bayley is the only therapy dog in the district, spokeswoman Valerie Wunder said.
According to research by UCLA Health, petting animals promotes the release of serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin, all hormones that can elevate moods. They often lower anxiety, reduce loneliness and increase mental stimulation.
Geist said she has trained and showed dogs for about 25 years, many of them purebreds.
"I stopped showing agility, and I decided to get another dog. I went to the pound, and there's Bayley," Geist said. "One ear stands up and one ear bends down.
"Years ago at French Run, I was teaching first grade and I would bring the dog I had at the time in every week, and the kids would weigh her and measure her. It was like a little math and science lesson. Bayley was here by herself all day, and I had always toyed with the idea of bringing her with me every day."
This past summer, Geist and Bayley completed training with Therapy Dogs International, a nonprofit founded in 1976 to regulate, test and register therapy dogs and their handlers.
Therapy dogs have a purpose different from service dogs, Geist said.
Practice dealing with loud noises -- like fire drills and recess -- and visits to public places, including nursing homes and Polaris Fashion Place, were part of the eight-week training. Bayley had to be ready for mornings at Rose Hill, where "500 little hands are reaching for her as she's walking down the hallway," Geist said.
"She needed to be familiar with stairs and elevators and big wide open spaces," she said. "She has to be able to handle the environment and go with the flow. Therapy-dog training is really about teaching a dog to be well behaved. My grandkids sort of 'test piloted' her, and she has naturally taken to it because she's an outgoing dog. Her only job is to make you feel better. I tell people, 'She works here. Her job is to make you feel better,' and they often smile and I say, 'See how good she is at her job?' "
Just like the students in Geist's classroom, Bayley has rules to follow.
"There's no food in the classroom, and the students are not allowed to feed her," she said. "They're not allowed to chase her -- she has to come to them. She has a bed and crate in the room; that's her alone time. When they're in the classroom sitting at their desks working, she usually goes to sleep, and for storytimes or things on the carpet, she'll come join us. Bayley has to listen to classroom commands just like the students -- she works on the same points system."
Geist said some of her students come from cultures where dogs are not kept as pets, and others have been shy or afraid.
"For kids who don't have the opportunity to have pets, it's a way to help them feel ownership and responsibility. I had a number of kids who were afraid of dogs at the beginning of the year and now they love her," she said. "Bayley picks up on students who don't want her close -- the other students will trade places with that person. If Bayley's not at school, the kids are upset. It's helped them learn empathy because they want to make sure the environment is right for Bayley and they want to care for her."
Only one student had to be moved to a different classroom because of allergies, Geist said.
The students have pride and responsibility when it comes to Bayley.
"When we have outdoor recess, we make sure she doesn't run away," said third-grader Jason Hall.
Being in the classroom with Bayley has made some of the students the envy of their friends, said third-grader Aapshana Bhattarai.
"Our friends are jealous," she said.
That may be the case, but Bayley has a presence throughout the school.
"In the morning before school, (Bayley) will go up and down the hallway because she knows who's got the good treats," Geist said. "When I have lunch, she goes in the teacher lounge with me and sits next to whoever is eating meat."
The dog often spends recess outside on a leash with Geist.
Geist said she plans to bring Bayley to school as long as the dog wants to be there.
"I think it's a fabulous experience for the kids and the teachers. She keeps everyone balanced. We've got so many kids at our school who have been through so much trauma in their lives and they need that comfort," Geist said. "She's bored stiff on the weekends; she just loves the children. I don't know what I'm going to do come summer."
ThisWeek managing editor Lee Cochran contributed to this story.