Entering their freshman year at Oscar Smith High School, Adam and Wessley Amick did most everything together.
If Adam dropped a pencil, Wessley picked it up for him.
Whenever Adam's wheelchair moved through the crowded school hallways, Wessley always lumbered right behind him keeping an eye out.
And when a class got rowdy, Wessley stood up to get between Adam and the noise.
Adam, 17, has moderate cerebral palsy. Wessley served as Adam's service dog, accompanying the boy through middle school and nearly four years at Oscar Smith High.
Wessley died Jan. 21.
He had lymphoma.
The flat-coated retriever left behind a young man who is much more independent than when the two first met.
"Wessley helped Adam gain his confidence," said Terry Langdon, the guidance secretary at Oscar Smith. "Adam and Wessley weren't just a dog and a boy. It was just amazing the bond that these two had."
The bond began when Adam was 10. He and his parents, Kevin and Tammi, went to Fort Knox, Ky., to find a service dog from a now-defunct program called AIM HI, or Animals in the Military Helping Individuals. Adam first had his eye on a golden retriever, his mother said, but a 2-year-old dog named Wessley kept his eye on Adam. "Apparently, Wessley was the right one for me," Adam said.
'We were almost like twins'
Wessley started with Adam in fifth grade at Truitt Intermediate School, and then moved on with him to Greenbrier Middle School. Administrators weren't sure what to make of the situation. "A dog in school? I was thinking of all kinds of problems," said former Greenbrier Middle School principal Rick West, who is now a city councilman.
It didn't take long for West and others to change their minds. Wessley wore a red vest with the words, "Do Not Pet - Working Dog" written in bold white letters. At Oscar Smith, school officials have seen the dog pick up water bottles and books, as well as open doors for Adam.
The trust went much farther than that. Adam said Wessley seemed to know when he was having a tough day at school. The dog would cheer him up by putting his whole face in Adam's hands. It was like Adam and Wessley were telepathic, the boy said. "We were almost like twins," Adam said. "We could read other's minds."
Wessley was the perfect companion as Adam adjusted to high school. Adam, his family, and Oscar Smith faculty all say that Wessley helped the boy come into his own during these last four years. "Adam was already very different. He doesn't blend," said his mother, Tammi. "Wessley really broke the ice. A lot of kids think it's pretty cool to take your dog to school."
Often, because of a teacher's warm reaction to the dog, it helped Adam feel more comfortable in his classes. At the mall, Adam joked that Wessley was his babe magnet. At Oscar Smith football games, Adam and Wessley sat near the end zone, where the players could talk to them on the way out to the field.
Many of Oscar Smith's 2,300 students had come to know Adam and Wessley. Weighing about 85 pounds, the dog looked like a black bear moving among the students, Langdon said. Wessley stayed after school with Adam to help with homecoming decorations. On Fridays before home games, Adam put blue- and gold-colored gel in Wessley's hair. "Wessley was very much a part of this school," Langdon said.
Adam feels that he and Wessley played a role in educating the community about the rights of disabled residents. When Adam went to get his driver's license at the DMV office on Greenbrier Parkway, a guard wouldn't allow him in with Wessley. The Amicks called the police.
Adam also had to advocate for his right to enter the Saudi Arabian embassy with the service dog in 2006. More recently, Wessley was with Adam in Richmond as the boy lobbied to have October designated as Disability History and Awareness month in Virginia.
'He always wanted to work'
Students noticed when Wessley stopped coming to school with Adam for much of senior year. Wessley seemed to be slowing down. The noise at pep rallies and the lunchroom started to be too much, and the dog would sit under Langdon's desk when he couldn't tolerate it.
Kevin and Tammi Amick also thought it might be a good idea to separate the dog and boy, because Adam was headed to Virginia Wesleyan College. Wessley, who was 9 years old, probably wouldn't go with him, they thought.
Adam also didn't need Wessley as much; he could pick up his own pencils. He had also started physical therapy in October to begin walking. His goal was to be able to walk across the stage for graduation, a crutch on one side and Wessley on the other.
Wessley's demeanor began to change as he saw less of Adam last year, family members say. Tammi Amick noticed Wessley seemed to have some anxiety when he couldn't put on the red vest and leave in the morning with Adam.
"He always wanted to work," she said. "The vest made him feel extra special."
Wessley made his last visit to Oscar Smith near Christmas break with Adam's mother. As they tried to leave the school, Wessley ran down the hall and into one of Adam's old classes looking for him. The dog had to be dragged away from the school before Adam returned.
"The minute Adam came around the corner, no one else existed," Langdon said. "He was this dog's whole world."
The Amicks found out Wessley had lymphoma on Jan. 12. As word spread Wessley was sick, students and faculty quickly raised more than $1,200 to pay for his chemotherapy.
The dog's first chemo session was Jan. 16. In the final days, Adam told Langdon he thanked the dog for his service. "He's done everything he's supposed to for me," Adam told Langdon. "It's my turn to take care of him now."
Wessley lost his appetite before the treatment began. When the dog refused to drink from his bowl one day, Adam took the bowl to his own face. Wessley followed.
On Jan. 20, he collapsed on the back porch. He was given two blood transfusions, but it was too late.
As Wessley was being put to sleep, he never lost sight of the boy who was his life for seven years.
Labels: News, ServiceDog