Ben Palega might be a little fish in a big pond, but at least he has a big furry companion at his side.

“I’m planning on bringing a white lab into campus coming soon — coming attraction: Friday!”

Freshman Ben Palega is bringing his service dog Friday to school for the very first time this year. Palega was born with quadriplegia that affects all four limbs.

“But that does not stop me,” Palega said. “I am in general ed classes, and this whole school journey has been amazing.”

Friday helps Palega with all sorts of everyday tasks.

“She helps me navigate, she can pick up my phone, she can pick up almost anything that is non-toxic,” Palega said. “She also can open doors and close doors, get help if I’m having a seizure, and currently I am working on helping her learn soccer. She can nose the ball!”

The support that Friday gives Palega goes both ways.

“We do a thing called you scratch my fur, and I’ll scratch your fur, which basically means we do things for each other.”

The reaction to Friday from the public has been unsurprisingly, positive.

“[There has been] lots of ‘Aww, she’s so cute.’ And lots of ‘Can I pet her?’”

When Friday is at school, however, she is working for Palega and only Palega, which means that students need to resist the urge to pet her. Palega asks students to please ask and talk to him first before approaching Friday and him. 

“You can’t pet her, she’s working,” Palega said. “She can only be released by me.”

Palega has had Friday as a service dog for exactly one year today, but there’s still lots of learning to do.

“Last year the trainers came out from Florida and stayed with us for a week. They were really so inspiring, they were amazing,” he said. “By the end of the two weeks we were ready to go out, but we did not test, we’re waiting to test school. So I like to call it puppy boot camp!”

Palega is thankful for Topaz Dogs, a non-profit organization that trains assistance dogs for children and adults with disabilities.

“I couldn’t have done it without [them. Their] support is phenomenal.”

Lastly, Palega wants students to know that Friday is “energetic and she is coming soon to a classroom near you!”

Original story written by Lucy Marco and Alice Scott and posted in The Shield, McCallum Journalism’s online newsletter: