At the end of a lunch break at Meridian Middle School Tuesday, a half-dozen sixth-grade girls encircled a small dog dressed in a gold bow tie standing quietly on the edge of the room.
The girls smiled and cooed as they ran their hands through the fluffy coat, and the 5-year-old Lhasa apso mix - Bobby - appeared to revel in the adoration.
"He's very well loved here," said counselor Chris Haener, who adopted Bobby and oversees his care.
When students earn points for good behavior, they often pass up other prizes for the chance to take Bobby on a short walk, Principal Lisa Austin said.
Bobby is Meridian Middle School's unofficial mascot (the official mascot is the Chiefs), and his presence is considered therapeutic - for students and staff.
"For some kids, he is a reward. For other kids, he is a responsibility. For everybody, he is a joy to see," Austin said.
Austin worked for years to get approval to bring a dog to school daily. She had witnessed how an emotionally disturbed child in the middle of a tantrum had calmed down after spending a few minutes with a dog.
"In 10 minutes, her whole perspective changed," Austin recalled. "That was really an epiphany moment."
Studies show dogs reduce human stress, and provide emotional and other benefits to humans, including stimulating the immune system of children in their first year of life.
Mandy Saras, a regional director for the Meridian district, said the district has had dogs in schools on a limited basis, usually because a student is training a service dog for people with disabilities.
"They have specific days and times that they come to the school. ... I don't think we've ever had one go all day, every day," said Saras. Students aren't allowed to pet service dogs, she said.
Saras said Star Elementary is exploring the possibility of a having a full-time therapy dog at that school. In Boise, therapy dogs are brought into classrooms regularly at Lowell and Whitney elementary schools.
Haener adopted Bobby from the Idaho Humane Society. He'd been transferred to Boise from Twin Falls, a Humane Society official said.
Bobby has all the characteristics school officials wanted - he's docile, enjoys being around children and doesn't shed.
"Lhasa apsos and shih tzus, many times they are the choice for people with children," said Dee Fugit, who does dog evaluations at the Humane Society.
Bobby has been coming to school every day since September, and his enthusiasm for being there has Haener a little worried about summer break. His days are scheduled on an Outlook calendar, as he's booked for classroom reading sessions and administrative meetings.
When he gets tired, he naps. A lot.
Bobby's on a leash except when he's in the school's administrative offices. He spends a lot of time in the principal's office - but not because he's been bad. In fact, he follows commands well and knows several tricks, including dancing in a circle on his hind legs.
Except for the school's resource officer, he hasn't had an adverse reaction to anyone. They're now friends.
"It's very common for dogs to be uncomfortable around tall men, men in hats, men in glasses," Fugit said. "It's very intimidating."
Haener said he'll get the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen certification soon. According to the AKC website, it's awarded to dogs "who have good manners at home and in the community."
Bobby has a bed under the principal's desk and under Haener's desk, too. There's a box near her door filled with clothing that students and staff have given to Bobby. One of his favorites is a red-and-blue "superdog" cape.
"He doesn't seem to want to take it off," Haener said.
Katy Moeller: 377-6413