OGDEN — Friday was almost like any other day in Erica Lyon’s film-making class at Ben Lomond High School.
The lights dimmed, with students clustered around computers and Lyon walking around giving them help, as a yellow Labrador retreiver followed closely at her heels.
Wait — a yellow Labrador in a high school classroom?
Griffin, a yellow Lab guide dog in training, has become the norm around Lyon’s film-making and fine arts classes.
This is not the first time Lyon has trained a guide dog — this is her fourth — but her first yellow Lab. She trained the others as a high school and middle school student, so having a dog in school isn’t new for her, but doing it as a teacher is a little different.
She got the idea to get the dog when her husband was holding a chocolate Lab during the summer.
“I knew I needed a puppy, and I also knew this was the only way I could have one and not leave it at home,” Lyon said as she rubbed and petted Griffin behind his ears.
She brought up the idea of bringing a guide dog in training to school with her with Principal Ben Smith. Smith admits he was a little apprehensive about it at first, but he changed his mind once he checked with other schools that had worked with guide dogs.
“It eased the tension a bit ,and I figured it wouldn’t be a bad thing to give the students a little different kind of exposure,” Smith said.
Lyon said she didn’t necessarily have to have Smith’s approval because according to the Americans with Disabilities Act, guide dogs in training can go most anywhere, including schools. Lyon said not all states allow so much public access for the dogs, but Utah does.
She was thrilled that Smith was willing to let her have the dog with no issues. She also loves taking him to the district office, because everyone is so kind and loving toward Griffin there as well.
Lyon gave her students very specific rules about Griffin the first week of school, and she has been impressed with how well they have handled things.
“They know he has to be sitting before they can pet him. They can’t play fetch, he can’t lick you, and he can’t shake,” Lyon said.
Some students questioned bringing in a dog, and it opened up a great dialogue about how important it is for guide dogs in training to learn very specific rules.
She also enjoys the conversation with the students that has developed because Griffin is around.
“It’s an automatic dialogue, because they talk about how they have a dog or how their grandma has a dog,” Lyon said.
Having Griffin around has also been a bit therapeutic for some students. Lyon has noticed in her art class that Griffin will sit under the desk of one student or another, usually the quieter ones, and most often those having a bad day. Before long she sees the student lean down and pet Griffin, relax and even start talking about what is bothering him or her.
“I don’t know how (Griffin) knows they are having a bad day, but he does. It is really something to watch,” Lyon said.
Having Griffin in class has given sophomore Tiffannee Brandley a better opinion of dogs, especially guide dogs.
“I don’t really like dogs, but he is so sweet and obedient. I didn’t think that’s how it would be. I would even train one myself,” Brandley said.
Student Adam Boothe said the experience of watching Griffin has been “amazing. He’s just such a nice dog.”
Jason Bennett really admires Lyon for the service she is giving.
“It’s cool that a teacher or just a person would train a dog so a blind person can have help,” said the 15-year-old sophomore.
Lyon doesn’t receive pay for training the dog. Guide dog service training facilities are in San Rafael, Calif., and Boring, Ore., where the dogs are bred and kept for at least eight weeks. The dogs can be picked up at that time or someone from the Guide Dog Club will deliver it.
A club member picked up Griffin for Lyon when he was 11 weeks old. He has nearly doubled his size since that time. The club pays for the veterinary fees, the leash and the collar, but everything else is the owner’s responsibility.
Lyon will have the dog until early next fall.
“But that’s OK, because you get a really awesome dog to hang out with for a while,” Lyon said.
Lyon has attended guide dog training school a few times and has read the manual on dog training.
She is passing along that knowledge to her students whenever she gets the chance.
“I’ve never been in class with any kind of animal. It’s wonderful having a dog here,” Jocelyn Lugo, 16, said, smiling as she looked lovingly at Griffin, who was sprawled out, right at home, in class.