Over the past few years, service dogs who accompany students and teachers to school have earned their rightful place among the class photos in yearbooks. This really cool trend continues this year with Alpha, the service dog for Andrew “A.J.” Schalk, a junior at Stafford High School in Falmouth, Va.
Ever since Alpha was only 4 months old, the black Lab, now 3, has been assisting Schalk as a diabetes detection dog.
“The amazing thing about Alpha is that he knows 20 to 40 minutes before my blood sugar actually does go low or high due to his amazing sense of smell,” Schalk, who has type 1 diabetes, told Buzzfeed News. “He has saved my life multiple times already, by waking me up in the middle of the night to extremely low blood sugars, which are very dangerous.”
Schalk asked the yearbook staff if his lifesaver’s photo could be included, and they were all totally on board with it. So Schalk brought Alpha along when he got his own picture taken.
“The only thing they changed was the camera height,” he told Buzzfeed News. “They just had to lower it a little, ha ha.” (Maybe next year they can lower it just a little bit more, LOL.)
“Where you see A.J., you see Alpha, and he’s just one of the gang,” the school principal, Joseph Lewis, told NBC Washington.
“He has been a great companion and added a lot of happiness to my school’s environment,” Schalk told Buzzfeed News. “It brightens people’s days seeing him in the halls or in my class and I love being able to have that effect on people.”
Class of 2016
Last year a photo of Presley, a 5-year-old Goldendoodle, appeared next to that of Seph Ware in the yearbook for Good Hope Middle School in West Monroe, La.
Ware, now 15, has had Duchenne muscular dystrophy since he was 3 years old and is confined to a wheelchair. While Ware was attending middle school, Presley helped him by picking up things he dropped, turning on lights, opening drawers and performing other tasks in the classroom and at home.
School officials came up with the idea of including Presley’s photo in the yearbook.
“Seph says that it took about 10 minutes to get Presley to look at the camera — and who knows how many shots,” his mom, Lori Ware, told AL.com.
After Presley’s yearbook photo was shared on Facebook, it went viral.
“We’re kind of stunned at all the attention,” Lori Ware told FoxNews.com. “It’s humbling. I’m glad Presley is making the world happy.”
Class of 2015
Two years ago, the hundreds of photos in Minnesota’s Blaine High School yearbook included those of Caramel Thomas and Dakota Comancho.
Caramel is a service dog belonging to Rebecca Thomas, who is hearing impaired and teaches American sign language at Blaine High. For the previous 10 years, Caramel had joined her in class.
Dakota, a certified therapy dog, belongs to Vicky Camancho, who teaches a special education class at the school and brings in Dakota once a week.
“The students love seeing the service dogs in the yearbook,” Thomas told Yahoo Canada.
Including the two dogs in the yearbook started in 2013, when Dakota’s photo was taken for an identification badge on class picture day.
“When we got the disc of student and staff photos, we automatically flowed the pictures into the yearbook page sections,” Faculty Adviser Jill Farrell told the Star Tribune. “The editors and I giggled like mad when we saw that a picture of Dakota was included in the images.”
Lynn Florman, head of the special education department, told Yahoo Canada the photos send a positive message.
“Sometimes the unique services they provide are not understood or valued by others, so seeing them recognized in such a public and memorable way as a yearbook sends a strong message to all that they are an integral part of the team that supports our students,” Florman said.