From follower to leader: how a high school student found her confidence.
“You’re only in high school?” asks the coffee shop barista after spotting Annabell’s school ID and her guide dog Barry. “You’re so independent and well-spoken!”
At 17, Annabell wasn’t always confident. “I was the follower for a long time,” she says. “But since I got Barry, the person who liked to be one with the crowd is no longer there. He’s a big confidence boost!”
As an infant, Annabell’s eyes shook uncontrollably from nystagmus. She screamed in sunlight. Doctors misdiagnosed her until her sister was born with the same condition, and genetic testing revealed a rare condition, achromatopsia. She sees only shades of gray, and everything washes out in bright light. “Light is not my best friend,” Annabell says candidly.
At 14, she and her mom attended our first Guide Dog Camp for teens, and soon, Annabell determined to get a dog of her own. At 16, she got the phone call inviting her to guide dog class.
“That call was a beam of hope,” she recalls. “It was a really dark time. I was recovering from COVID; I had so much to catch up on at school, and it was chaos all around me. I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is happening,’ and, ‘Life will get better now!’ I was so excited to meet my dog.”
The two have been inseparable ever since.
He’s definitely life changing. I can’t wait to go to college with Barry.
Having a dog in high school comes with challenges. Annabell wakes early to take care of him. She puts up with insensitive peers—some boys once followed her, barking. They were suspended, and meanwhile, the 2,500 school students are learning guide dog etiquette. Despite challenges, though, Annabell wouldn’t have it any other way.
Barry guides her to classes, and she’s free to chat with friends instead of worrying about finding her way. She navigated public transportation on a trip to Chicago. “Without Barry, I would not have been able to walk on a platform or find a seat,” she says. “Barry has come with me to summer camp, and we’ve gone hiking together.”
“If I didn’t have my guide dog, where would I be right now?” she reflects. “Would I be in a place where I feel confident advocating for myself? He’s definitely life changing. I can’t wait to go to college with Barry. And I swear he understands English because I talk to him all the time. He gets to hear everything because we are best friends.”
This feature first appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of Life Unleashed. Read more articles here.