When most people see this photo of Bella and her human, Valerie Parrott, they break out into a smile and utter an “awwwww!!” But the meaning of this photo runs much deeper than Valerie and Bella sharing a sweet moment on Valerie’s wedding day.
When I saw this photo, I burst into tears. I bet other service dog handlers did, too.
Bella is a medical alert and psychiatric service dog. She’s performing an incredibly important task in this photo—a task that would help Valerie enjoy one of the most special days of her life.
Valerie told me:
Right before the photo was taken she had alerted me to my increasing anxiety and was trying to calm me down and was performing a grounding task. Basically it helps me to take a moment away from whatever is causing the anxiety and keep me from having a panic attack.
That stunning photo of a bride with her best friend captures the beauty of a service dog team—the beauty of what it’s like to put your life in the paws of a pup, knowing that your dog will do everything she can to keep you safe.
Bella played a crucial role in Valerie’s wedding to Andrew Parrott. Valerie and Andrew have been dating for two years, which is also the same amount of time that Bella has been in Valerie’s life. Consequently, Bella and her dad share an incredible bond.
It’s actually a funny story because as we were driving to the Sioux Falls falls where we got engaged, Andrew was so nervous that Bella kept alerting me to his rising anxiety. She’d never alerted to him before so I thought she was alerting to me and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Ha!
The three and a half year old Yellow Lab walked down the aisle with Valerie and her father, Kurt Menning.
Valerie’s wedding photos have gone viral and landed the service dog team on the front page of Reddit. While this newfound fame is a bit overwhelming, Valerie says that it’s the perfect opportunity to educate people about service dogs.
There’s a lot of confusion about service dogs. People think they are only for the blind or visibly disabled. However, people with invisible disabilities, like anxiety and other psychiatric illnesses, sometimes need service dogs. There are also service dogs for dozens of other invisible illnesses. In fact, one of Bella’s tasks is alerting Valerie to severe migraines.
Additionally, Valerie says that Bella:
… Helps with side effects from medication (like passing out). she is also response trained for when these events happen. A response task can be anything like getting help, getting me to a safe place and sitting or lying down. Those are just a few tasks she does.
On her blog, Valerie talks about one of the things that she really wants people to understand about service dogs:
So many people don’t know that service dogs can be used for so many invisible illnesses. The other thing is a lot of people look at a service dog team and forget that it is because of that partnership, that both dog and handler can not only survive life, they can thrive at it.
I think I can speak for every service dog handler when I say this—thank you Valerie for using these beautiful photos as a platform to educate people about service dog teams. You have made a difference and we are all grateful for it.