Pitman High School student trains guide dog for the blind

Teens in the Newsroom ProgramMay 21, 2013 

Annika Jasek-Rysdahl with her guide dog in training, Chevelle

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"I could hear people say, 'What's a dog doing here?' " said Annika Jasek-Rysdahl in recounting the reaction to her bringing a guide dog in training to Pitman High School.

" 'She's allowed to bring a dog to school?' " she recalled. "Some people even asked if I was blind."

Chevelle, a black Lab, is just a few months old and has the boundless energy of a pup. He's a common sight on the Turlock campus, at Annika's side with his trademark green guide-dog- in-training vest.

Annika, a 14-year-old freshman, says she began the journey to becoming a guide dog trainer because she has always been intrigued by the opportunity of helping people through animals.

So how did the actual process of becoming a trainer go?

She describes it as a long but fulfilling one. Of course, the first step was convincing her parents.

"I had been wanting to do it for a long time and then my parents finally let me in October."

After gaining their support, Annika says her mom brought home a brochure from a local work fair, and then she attended a meeting herself.

"You have to go to meetings for at least three months, then puppy-sit five days, and get a house inspection," she said. "The inspection is there to make sure you have a safe house, back yard, and no aggressive animals."

The final step was acquiring permission from the school to bring Chevelle. Annika says every one of her teachers and the school principal were extremely supportive and even excited. She says she'd urge anyone interested to look into guide dog training.

"It is an amazing program," she said.

Annika now is part of the Stanislaus Guide Dog Club. She has built a strong friendship with Chevelle, but she's not the only one. Pitman High students and teachers alike have taken a deep liking to the beautiful black dog in his spiffy vest.

"Of course, he doesn't mind the attention. All of my friends love him and always ask where he is when I don't take him to school with me," she said. "Even my teachers look forward to seeing his face and wagging tail walk into class."

Chevelle's impact on campus has been a beneficial one, bringing a nice change and a sense of new to school.

Deborah Haynam, a senior, says she admires Annika's work with Chevelle.

"It takes a lot of maturity and compassion to do what Annika's doing," she said. "A lot of people her age wouldn't spend their time training a guide dog, but she is.

"Chevelle is just so cute and fun to be around, too. School is definitely a lot more interesting with her and Chevelle around."

Annika says Chevelle regularly prompts smiles. "The fact that he makes school better for others makes school that much better for me," she said.

Martin Cepeda is a freshman at Pitman High School and a member of The Bee's Teens in the Newsroom Program.

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