One teenager took his dog to school with him every day. In fact, he soon became known as the “kid with the dog” by his fellow students. However, when they saw his yearbook picture, they couldn’t believe it.
Andrew Schalk, known to his friends as AJ, is a student at Stafford High in Falmouth, Virginia. In 2017 Schalk was just your average 16-year-old teenager. However, unlike most of his friends, he took his dog into school each day.
Schalk first got his pet Alpha when he was just 13. Since then, they’ve been pretty much inseparable. However, their relationship goes far beyond that of a simple boy and dog. That’s because Alpha saves Schalk’s life on a regular basis.
You see, Schalk is Type 1 diabetic. This means his body is unable to produce insulin, the hormone that moves sugar around the body. As a result, it’s easy for the teen’s blood sugar levels to become dangerously high.
So, with that in mind, Alpha is Schalk’s service dog. Due to the training the canine required, Schalk’s family had to campaign to raise $25,000 to secure the dog. However, he was completely worth the fundraising efforts.
It’s Alpha’s job to alert the schoolboy if his sugar levels become too low or high. “He knows 20 to 40 minutes before my blood sugar actually does go low or high due to his amazing sense of smell,” Schalk revealed to BuzzFeed in March 2017.
Indeed, the teen has seen firsthand just how acute the dog’s senses are. “He has saved my life multiple times already,” Schalk added. “[Alpha wakes] me up in the middle of the night to extremely low blood sugars, which are very dangerous.”
So, in 2016 Alpha began accompanying Schalk to school. This would give the teen round-the-clock cover on his blood sugar levels. In fact, the move has already proved to be beneficial.
“He’s been able to alert me to my blood sugar in school,” Schalk explained to WUSA9 in May 2017. “He’s always in class with me. There’s times when my blood sugar is off in class. So, he alerts me and I go down to the nurse and fix what needs to be fixed.”
As a result, students at Stafford High got used to seeing Schalk and Alpha patrolling the school’s corridors together. And, before long, everyone knew who Schalk was. “There’s definitely times when I’m referred to as the kid with the dog,” he admitted to WUSA9.
So, needless to say, Alpha became a huge part of Schalk’s school life. As a result, when the teen came to have his yearbook picture taken, he thought the dog should be included. So, he approached editor Grace Fuller.
And, luckily, Fuller agreed to let Alpha be part of the yearbook. “He’s just as a much of a student as anybody else it,” she later pointed out to WUSA9. As a result, the dog received its own picture in the book, right alongside Schalk.
“All the teachers and students were 100 per cent supportive,” Schalk told BuzzFeed. “I just brought him with me when I got my yearbook picture taken. The only thing they changed was the camera height. They just had to lower it a little.”
And, the reaction Alpha’s yearbook appearance received was incredible. One of the first people to notice the dog among the smiling faces on the page was Diana Bloom, 18. Furthermore, she loved it so much that she decided to post a snap on Twitter.
“Seeing a picture of a dog caught my eye pretty quickly,” Bloom explained. “I thought it was so cute. I knew that some of my underclassmen friends hadn’t seen it yet because they didn’t have their yearbooks. So, I took a picture and tweeted it.”
Before long, more than 2,500 people had shared the image on the social media site. “Everybody’s really loved it,” Fuller confirmed in her interview with WUSA9. “It’s, like, their favorite part,” she added.
Online, people couldn’t get enough of Alpha’s adorable yearbook picture. “This is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen,” one Twitter user wrote. Meanwhile, another added, “Such a wonderful act of the school to recognize the importance of Alpha’s work for someone with Type 1 diabetes. Well done Stafford High.”
In the end, Stafford High School released a statement about the yearbook. In May 2017 Principal Joseph Lewis told ABC News that including Alpha “was just fun to do.” He added, “Beyond this, Alpha is just a part of everyday school life here at Stafford High School, as much as any student is.”
But, while he’s happy Alpha made thousands of people smile, his owner’s always known the dog was special. “He has been a great companion and added a lot of happiness to my school’s environment,” Schalk told BuzzFeed. “It brightens people’s days seeing him in the halls or in my class. I love being able to have that effect on people.”
“Alpha is really an amazing animal,” Schalk added. “He makes a disability, such as my diabetes, such a positive experience for me and my life overall, and really turns it into a blessing rather than a negative part of my life.”