A loyal companion

Service dog Tinkerbell helps student with anxiety



Junior Ashley Gertonson pictured along with her service dog, Tinkerbell.

While not an everyday occurrence, most people have seen a service dog and thought, “I want to pet it.” 

But most don’t think about the person behind the dog. 

Rider junior Ashley Gertonson is now able to walk the halls with her service dog, Tinkerbell, a purebred German shepherd who has been by her side for over a year. Having their normal routine continue at school has comforted Gertonson, who has social anxiety, high-functioning anxiety and PTSD. 

“It definitely pushes me to socialize and kind of get over social anxiety,” Gertonson said. 

Despite everything running smoothly now, the process to approve Tinkerbell was not easy. However, this did not stop Gertonson from striving to get her loyal companion approved. 

“She’s permitted entrance anywhere, but with school because people have allergies and things like that, it took a lot of paperwork to make sure she’s completely certified,” Gertonson said. 

After going through a long process of getting Tinkerbell approved, Gertonson was finally able to go to school with her dog by her side. Through this, their connection has continued to strengthen as they work as a team. 

“The hardest thing is making sure that we are both comfortable and that both of us continue to train and work together,” Gertonson said. “We’re a team.” 

Their bond is a huge reason why they are able to overcome the extra challenges that are brought with school. Gertonson has faced people’s reactions that have not been helpful to the situation. 

“I just wish that other people would leave it alone more and ask smarter questions,” Gertonson said. “I’ve had a lot of questions that are obvious or poking fun and that’s pretty inappropriate.”

Above all, Gertonson wants people to respect the fact that her dog is a normal dog, but Tinkerbell assists her on a daily basis. Tinkerbell is there for the sole purpose of being a comfort for Ashley. 

“She’s like any other regular dog, just a little bit more helpful,” Gertonson said. “She’s not there for other people, she’s there for me and my needs.” 

Gertonson said Tinkerbell has adjusted well at school. She feeds her at night and doesn’t have to take her outside during school hours, but Gertonson does bring a retractable water bowl to campus. 

Gertonson, who participates in choir, said her comforting, loving dog has helped her mental health by being at school. Even though it’s not always seen on the outside. 

“Not all disabilities are a physical disability,” she said.