A Hound in the Halls: Geary Brings Service Dog in Training to MHS

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Geary and her service dog in training, Chipotle, can be seen strolling through the halls of MHS on their way to class. (PHOTO BY GRIMMER)

As Mariemont High School students flood into school each morning with backpacks and lunch bags in tow, Junior Catherine Geary has her hands full with something unexpected: a service dog in training.  

Her current dog, Chipotle, is a 9-month-old half Newfoundland-half Golden Retriever from 4 Paws for Ability, a nonprofit located in Xenia, Ohio that provides service dogs to disabled children and veterans in need.

Service dog training is not foreign to the Geary family, having trained two dogs, Tiago and Sundance, before.  

“My family started training service dogs when my sister Lizzy was a junior in 2014.  Lizzy is really interested in animal behavior, and she thought this program would really help her develop her skills with animals and develop her resumé for getting into Animal Science programs at university,” says Geary.  “My family agreed to help her raise the dogs, and we all fell in love with the program.”

One of the main reasons that Chipotle comes to school with Geary is for him to become more socialized.  A critical aspect of the training is for the dog to get used to going everywhere with their owners.

“My job with Chipotle is to get him used to public situations like school, stores, doctors offices, and buses as well as teach him basic obedience commands,” says Geary.

Not only is training these dogs an important task but a true passion of the Geary family.

“I love training these dogs,” says Geary.  “After training, when they get placed with an individual who really needs them, it’s amazing to see how much the dog can help that person and really improve their life.”  

After several months of training and a final evaluation from 4 Paws for Ability, Chipotle will be paired with an individual that he will be able to help best.

“At this point, we don’t know what disability Chipotle will help with,” says Geary.  “He could help a child with autism, fetal alcohol syndrome, severe epilepsy, diabetes, or a number of other conditions.”

Smith and Chipotle share a moment before 7th bell begins. (PHOTO BY GRIMMER)

Not only does Geary enjoy having Chipotle’s company at school, but students have been thrilled with the dog as their fellow classmate.

“I love it. I love it so much,” says junior Alan Smith.

AP US History teacher, Mrs. Leatherwood, has also enjoyed having Chipotle in her class.

“I think it is a calming presence to have in the classroom.  People feel comfortable with him, and it is like being at home,” says Leatherwood.  “My hope is that it will peak others’ interest and make them think about training dogs themselves.”

How to behave around a service dog has foggy guidelines.  Because Chipotle is still in training, his situation is a bit different.

“He’s still learning!  He’s learning how to behave in class and to listen to my verbal and visual commands,” says Geary.  “Because he’s still in training, it’s okay to pet him, but he shouldn’t be a distraction to your learning nor should you be a distraction to his learning.”

Although service dog training is an exciting and rewarding experience, it is different than having a dog as a pet.  

“When I have to say goodbye to a foster dog, it’s extremely difficult, especially because the dog has been going nearly everywhere with me for so long,” says Geary. “However, it’s completely worth it because I know the dog is going to help someone who needs him more than I do.”