WASHINGTON — A furry face in a Virginia high school’s yearbook is catching a lot of attention.
Alpha, a service dog, appeared alongside the rest of Stafford High School’s junior class.
“Alpha started coming to school with me a lot this year and he began coming to school with me a little bit last year as well,” junior A.J. Schalk, 17, told WTOP Thursday.
Schalk has Type 1 diabetes and Alpha alerts Schalk when his sugar climbs too high or drops too low, even while he is sleeping.
“He alerts my blood sugar through smell, 20 to 40 minutes sooner than I know anything is wrong,” said Schalk, who has had diabetes since he was 9.
“He has saved my life multiple times.”
An extremely high blood sugar can lead to a diabetic coma, which can be fatal or cause permanent bodily damage. An extremely low blood sugar can lead to diabetic shock.
A low blood sugar can occur when there is too much insulin in the system, which can be caused either by a miscalculation, exercise or other factors.
“Dogs have such a good sense of smell, he’s just able to pick up the scent of a high or low blood sugar before I know anything is wrong,” explained Schalk.
In addition to serving as Schalk’s primary spotter, Alpha has been a joy for his classmates.
“There’s a lot of people you can tell they are having a rough day, but just seeing a dog in the hallway really brightens up their day. Alpha’s become such a big part of the school environment.”
Because of his impact, Schalk asked a friend of his if his service dog could also be in the yearbook.
“Everyone was so 100 percent supportive of it.”
So now in the 2017 Stafford High School yearbook, a photo of Alpha Schalk appears right next to A.J.
“Since he does have a student I.D., he is also a junior in high school,” Schalk said.
Getting that portrait was easy.
“All that happened on picture day was I went to take my yearbook picture and then I scooted over to the side, pulled him over and was like ‘Alright, Alpha, you sit here, bud,’” Schalk recounted. “I could tell he was a little nervous but I went and stood next to the picture lady and just got his attention so he was looking in her general area and she snapped a picture and that’s how it came to be.”
While this may all appear to be fun, it is a serious matter at the same time.
Schalk has seen his blood sugar and A1C, a test that reflects long-term blood sugar numbers, levels go down since Alpha has joined him at school.
Plus, the service dog offers the opportunity to advocate for their benefits.
“Alpha is a great blessing for me,” Schalk said. “He’s saved my life multiple times and I love getting the word out about service dogs and the great good they can do.”
So when Schalk is a senior next year, will Alpha make another appearance in the annual book?
“That’s really something that I am looking forward to. Since he is a black lab, I might have to get a white bow tie for him for his senior portrait.”