Wantagh Has Gone “Barking Mad” Over Chris Garske

Kiera Fitzpatrick, Editor-in-Chief

Walking through the halls, students may have noticed a number of things. For example, there are new black lockers, a number of new teachers, and Chris Garske. Why am I singling out a student in the new additions to Wantagh High School? Well, because Chris is accompanied by his work dog.

The name of Chris’ dog has been changed to ensure his privacy. As a work dog, “Toby” must be focused at all times and it’d be pretty hard to not call his name – being that everyone in Wantagh already wants to pet him during class. So, to eliminate paparazzi, and for purposes of this article – we’ll call him “Toby”.

Chris unfortunately suffers from epilepsy – a brain disorder relating to spontaneous seizures of any type. Chris didn’t attend Wantagh High School his freshman or sophomore year because of this. Recently, he had been able to better control the episodes and last January he found “Toby”, a seizure-alert dog. “Toby” can alert Chris at the onset of a seizure by nudging him, seconds before, or even an hour. Although he cannot completely ensure that Chris will not have a seizure, if he does in fact have one, “Toby” will comfort him and make sure he’s alright after.

Last January, Chris travelled to Georgia in hopes of finding a dog. Excuse me, in hopes of being found by a seizure-alert dog. Apparently, when you go into one of the groups to find a dog, the dog actually picks you because it feels a connection to you. “Toby” was in the “cartoon characters” group, Chris has a friend who also found a dog in the “Harry Potter” group. If you are going to receive a seizure-alert dog, the name comes with it. You do not pick it. For example, Chris’ friend’s is accompanied by Potter.

“Toby” is a two-year old flat coat retriever. He’s extremely sweet and controlled. While I was talking to Chris in the library, “Toby” started to sniff me because he smelled my dog. Afterword, he fell asleep with his head resting on my feet and I continued to speak to Chris. Chris said that he’s adapting very well to Wantagh High School, both of them. “Toby” sleeps in class, and Chris is back with his old friends (which is why he wanted to come back.) He used to go to Vincent Smith School, and although they were a school that had students with the same condition as Chris, he’s much happier here. While in gym class, “Toby” is accompanied by Ms. Warren – who says it’s an interesting experience and she’s learning a lot about work dogs. It’s unbelievable that the dog calmly walks through the crowded halls and is unflappable.

When Chris goes home, he takes “Toby’s” work vest off and it’s like there’s a whole new dog in the house. “Toby” knows when he’s “on-duty” or “off-duty.” Being that he’s two years old, he acts like a puppy when his vest isn’t on. Chris also has two other dogs, and they are quite jealous of the bond between him and “Toby”. They eat together, go to school together, and play together. “Toby” has become a permanent part of Chris’ daily routine. I guess you could say “Toby” is like a best friend to Chris. He says that everyone who actually knows his dog loves him.

Chris will be graduating in 2013, repeating his senior year because he’s only here a half of the day. Then he goes to a school to learn certain abilities to help him get a job in the future. Since he’ll be here, you should really get to know him and “Toby”. Don’t just yell “look at the dog!” or “that dog is so cute!” (That’s what everyone’s reaction was according to Chris because it is rather shocking.) The bond between the two is very special and something you notice just from having a brief conversation with Chris while he’s with “Toby”. Also, it’s amazing how smart “Toby” is – and how he can detect a seizure. It’s extremely interesting and just by talking to Chris I want to learn more about it.

He’s happy to be back at Wantagh, having his seizures under control, so show him that Wantagh students are friendly. You can talk to him about anything at all, he’s not going to bite (and neither is “Toby.”)