His calm temperament, however, has a soothing effect on the school’s students. They say he helps them cope with the daily stresses of life and school.
“I think they see him as an unconditional friend,” said Kathy Anderson, a paraprofessional at Central who took in Bear two years ago from a friend.
The dog was 14 months old when Anderson took him. He turned 3 in April.
“When he gets to school, he’s in his element,” Anderson said of Bear. “It’s truly been a real blessing for him, for me and for the students.”
When Anderson first acquired Bear, he suffered from severe separation anxiety, she said. She remembers having to get someone to watch Bear so she could go to the grocery store.
“Being alone was a difficult task for him,” Anderson said. “He just didn’t want me to leave him.”
Anderson said she tried finding Bear a home, to no avail. That’s when she talked with Kris Bettisworth, a special-education teacher at Lakeshore Middle School, about having Bear in her classroom.
“He makes the classroom more comfortable,” said Bettisworth, who had brought her own yellow Lab to class for seven years before the dog died. “He’s a wonderful presence in the room — the kids get a long better. It’s something everybody can share.”
Last year was the first year Bear began going to school with Bettisworth, attending school on most days.
This year, Bear splits his school days between Lakeshore and Central. Students at Central will take a mid-day walk over to Bettisworth’s classroom at the middle school and walk Bear back to their school. Anderson takes Bear home at the end of the day.
Bettisworth said having Bear in her classroom hasn’t been an issue with staff or parents, and gives her students positive reinforcement for being in school.
“The kids love having an animal in the room,” she said. “He’s just loved and appreciated.”
Bear has become a friend and a comfort blanket for many of the students at Central.
“He just helps relieve a lot of stress you build up during the day with school,” said Steven Hitsman, who is set to graduate from next month. “Just having him sit there and being able to reach down and pet him makes me feel better.”
Bear walks around the halls of Central, wandering in and out of classrooms, and often sits beside students in class. His favorite spot to relax, though, is the couch in the school’s library.
“He just loves being on that couch,” said 20-year-old Cody Barnard, who is finishing his GED at Central. “He loves all the students.”
Students at Central take turns walking Bear outside. He rarely barks, except for when someone new walks into the building.
Bear even has his own school identity tag, sometimes worn on his collar. His title: Security.
“He knows if someone is not supposed to be in our building,” Anderson said. “He barks because he wants to know who you are.”
Bear helped 18-year-old Sam Anderson cope with losing her own dog at home, she said.
“He’s always there if someone has a hard time with something,” she said. “He’s cute. You look at him and you just want to smile.”