When it came time for yearbook photos at the end of the school year, one Florida elementary school made sure nobody was left out, including a beloved service dog.
Rachel Watton, a 5th grader at Orange City Elementary School, has spina bifida. She’s confined to a wheelchair but gets help from her service dog, a 4-year old lab named Linda.
In addition to opening doors for Rachel and helping her pick up things off the floor, Linda is Rachel’s best friend. With Rachel and Linda both ready to graduate and move on to middle school in the fall, the school wanted to find a way to honor Linda,
“When it was time to do school pictures, I said ‘there is no reason Linda shouldn’t be pictured in the class and in the yearbook,'” said principal Charlie Bynum.
Dressed in a polo shirt, Linda got her picture taken for the yearbook just like every other student. Linda also received her own copy of the yearbook and a plaque in recognition of the three years she spent at the school.
During those three years, Linda wouldn’t just be there helping Rachel; she helped all of her classmates as well.
“Linda would be there to help with tests when the kids started to get anxious or nervous,” explains Rachel’s mom, Heidi Race. “She’s very intuitive — and she’d go over and the kid would pet her, give her some love. She gave them a break to calm down.”
Race says Linda has become a part of the school just like any other student. While Orange City Elementary will miss her, Race says both Rachel and Linda will be back to visit.
“It’s amazing the change that I have seen in my students and how (she’s) brought us all together as a family,” adds Rachel’s teacher Ashley Desmond. “She’s really become the mascot of Orange City Elementary.”