Alpha Schalk has already graduated, but that didn’t keep him from having his picture included with the students of the class of 2018 at Stafford High School in Falmouth, Virginia
Alpha is a specially trained diabetes service dog.
Similarly trained dogs from the Diabetic Alert Dogs of America must be at least six months old when they start training, which lasts an additional six to eight months.
After Alpha graduated from training, it was back-to-school — this time with his human, AJ Schalk, a Stafford High junior who suffers from type 1 diabetes.
This disease, “once known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes,” the Mayo Clinic reminds us, “is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, a hormone needed to allow sugar (glucose) to enter cells to produce energy.”
That’s where Alpha comes in. Diabetic Alert Service Dogs, “alert their owners in advance of low (hypoglycemia) or high (hyperglycemia) blood sugar events before they become dangerous, so that their owners may take steps to return their blood sugar levels to normal, such as using glucose sweets or taking insulin.”
Alpha can tell when AJ is at risk of a blood sugar event because he’s been “specifically trained to react to the chemical change produced by blood sugar highs and lows. Diabetic Alert Dogs can provide emotional security and a sense of balance for individuals and their families. Diabetic Alert Dogs can help their handlers lead a more confident and independent lifestyle.”
In other words, Alpha makes it feel less like AJ’s suffering from diabetes and makes it more living he’s living with diabetes.
Not everyone was expecting to see Alpha in the yearbook.
Diana Bloom lives near AJ and is a senior at Stafford High. The upperclassman expected to see AJ and Alpha on the bus to school, but she wasn’t expecting to see Alpha in the yearbook!
Diana’s senior privileges allowed her to get her yearbook earlier than her underclassmen peers.
“Seeing a picture of a dog caught my eye pretty quickly,” Bloom later told BuzzFeed News. “I thought it was so cute, and 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.”
A week later, the image has been retweeted 3,500 times and the picture has been used by news stations from coast to coast.
How did Alpha get into the yearbook, though?
As we told you, service dogs like Alpha give their companions confidence. So much confidence, in fact, that AJ boldy asked if Alpha could be in the yearbook. The powers that be were completely game.
“I just brought him with me when I got my yearbook picture taken,” AJ told BuzzFeed. “The only thing they changed was the camera height. They just had to lower it a little haha.”
Alpha has certainly earned his way into the books.
“He has saved my life multiple times already,” AJ explained, “by waking me up in the middle of the night to extremely low blood sugars.”
“[Alpha] has been a great companion and added a lot of happiness to my school’s environment,” AJ told BuzzFeed. “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.”
Alpha is having a great effect not just on AJ Schalk and Stafford High, now his services have gone global, delivering smiles across the world.