MAGNOLIA, TX (KTRK/CNN) – Service animals are so much more than furry friends.
They mean safety, independence and reassurance – which is why two high schoolers in Texas were in disbelief when they say they were forced to make their dogs stand behind them during their class photo.
Erica Ray has a service dog named “Groot” because she suffers from epileptic migraines, an elevated heart rate and seizures.
Leonna Smith’s service dog “Aries” helps her with PTSD, anxiety and depression.
For the students, the dogs aren’t just animals – they’re their lifeline, alerting them when something goes wrong medically.
That’s why they didn’t think twice about having the dogs in their senior class photo at Magnolia West High School.
Ray and Smith said they at first had their dogs lying in front of them for the photo.
But they said administrators made them put their dogs behind them, which prevented the dogs from doing what they were trained to do, which is to nudge the students if they pick up on a medical alert or to get help if it’s needed.
Having to move Groot from his normal post caused Ray to have anxiety, she said.
Smith said she felt lightheaded after the photo.
"I’m planning on pursuing this farther, and just seeing what can change and what can be done, because this isn't something that should have ever happened," Smith said.
In a statement, the Magnolia Independent School District said: “Magnolia ISD is committed to high-quality education programs including supports and services that allow all students to maximize their learning achievement. The district is dedicated to meeting the educational needs of all students and at no time were the girls’ educational accommodations violated.”
Ray and Smith have been told they will be allowed to walk with their dogs at graduation.