At school, a furry figure constantly watches over 7-year-old Hadley Jo Lange – her service dog, Ariel. The youngster attends St. Patrick Catholic School in Louisville, Kentucky. And recently, the elementary school surprised her by including a photo of the adorable Labradoodle in its yearbook.
The dog was featured on both the kindergarten class page and the faculty page, and seeing her best friend there made her so happy!
“I think she thought it was neat to open your yearbook and see your special dog as part of your class,” her mom Heather Lange said. “It’s the inclusiveness. It makes her feel like she’s equally a part of this classroom. That kindness, it speaks a lot of volumes.”
Hadley Jo suffers from epilepsy, a neurological condition that causes seizures. Without her companion, the girl might not even be alive today.
Heather spoke to CNN about the significant role that Ariel plays in Hadley Jo’s life.
“This dog has really saved my daughter’s life. I don’t know how I could ever thank Ariel as a mother. She goes with her everywhere, to school, rides the bus with her, goes to her dance classes and soccer practice. She always has her eyes on my little girl. It’s a huge sense of security,” she said.
The 4-year-old pooch, who has been with Hadley Jo since she was two years old, can recognize when the girl is about to have a seizure. When these episodes occur at school, Ariel alerts the teachers about the emergency by barking. She also lies down beside Hadley Jo and places her body under hers so she could cushion her fall.
“It’s important for us to do all we can to foster our relationship with families and do what we can to support students,” Nathan Sturtzel, the school principal, told CNN. “We love Ariel. She’s part of Hadley Jo’s family so she’s a part of our family too. Finding a place for her in our yearbook was an easy decision and it was a lot of fun to include her. We loved it.”
Aside from giving Hadley Jo the love and protection she needs, what makes the Labradoodle extra special is the fact that she’s the only service dog in the archdiocese of Louisville.
While the dog’s inclusion in the yearbook seems like another sweet story about a girl and her service dog, to Heather, it’s a story of victory.
“It proved that we may not all look the same, we may not all learn the same, we have differences but it’s OK. We can still be kind and inclusive and accept each other. This yearbook is a huge reflection of that,” she said.
Hadley Jo had her first seizure when she was just 17 months old. The family was dining at a restaurant at the time, and the baby was on Heather’s lap. Suddenly, Hadley Jo fell into her arms, and her eyes rolled back into her head. She stopped breathing, and the terrifying experience had Heather thinking she was about to lose her child.
Since then, seizures have become a part of the little girl’s life. But with Ariel as her constant companion, Hadley Jo hasn’t let her condition affect her cheerful nature.
Finding the best dog for Hadley Jo wasn’t easy. Heather said it cost $20,000 to get Ariel, and they were able to afford her with generosity from friends, donors, and organizations who helped them raise enough money within six months. Heather knows not all families can have the same opportunity, so she teamed up with the Epilepsy Foundation of Kentuckiana and launched Hope for Hadley Jo. The non-profit organization aims to help families whose children need service dogs to get one of their own.
Heather has also become a staunch advocate for kids with epilepsy, encouraging other schools to be accommodating to them as St. Patrick has been to her daughter. Hadley Jo will move on to first grade this fall, and Heather said she has been enjoying spending time with Ariel during this pandemic.
We may not all look alike, but we can surely be kind and compassionate towards other people; it’s the best thing we can do! Share this story with your friends and family to inspire kindness.