KENNESAW, Ga. – Morgan Rath walked across the stage with her best friend and companion, Paisley, by her side — a place she never thought she would find herself without her.
Rath’s depression and anxiety debilitated her in a way that made schoolwork at Kennesaw Mountain High School nearly impossible. She was missing multiple classes due to her four to five panic attacks that she was experiencing on a weekly basis. And graduation... that seemed like a mountain she would never come close to overcoming.
“Starting freshman year, I suffered with severe anxiety and depression. I ended up in the hospital sophomore year,” Rath said.
After struggling to stay in school, the high school junior’s life was about to change.
Rath spotted Paisley, a stray dog, while driving over a bridge in Emerson, Ga. She looked for her owner for more than a week and called several local organizations and veterinarians, but to no avail.
Rath had considered a service dog for a while, to help her with her anxiety and depression. So, she kept the pup and sought a trainer, only to find out that Paisley was a good service dog prospect. The now-2-year-old began her training in March 2016 at Animals Deserve Betters’ Paws for Life in Cobb County.
The high-schooler said that she had to work with the school and a deal with lot of paperwork to get Paisley approved to attend classes with her. But the first day of her senior year, the school sent a letter home that told parents that a service dog would be attending school.
It was the first momentous hurdle the pair overcame together.
“Without a doubt, 100 percent, Paisley, I think was the last piece of the puzzle to help Morgan go through,” Mark Trachtenbroit, Rath’s principal, said.
He acknowledged that with Paisley next to her, Rath became a different student.
“I think the big thing that we found was that Paisley, who was one of my favorite students this year… Paisley was just a calming factor, which I really think helped Paisley with her academics,” Trachtenbroit said.
And throughout the halls of Kennesaw Mountain High, Paisley began having an impact on rest of the class of 2017.
“People loved seeing her every day. I got a lot of feedback, like, 'Hey, seeing your dog every day really makes my day a lot better...' which made me feel good too because, I wasn’t helping myself, but the people around me,” Rath said.
And in May, the duo took a ceremonious glide across the stage, where Rath finally accepted her diploma. Paisley, who was by her side the entire day, wore a black graduation gown, as well as a matching, festive tutu.
“Walking across the stage, which I wasn’t going to do originally, I feel like it was able to tell people that hey I did it. Hey, I made it this far and all those people that talked behind my back in younger grades – they saw I was strong enough to make it through,” Rath said.
Paisley was the first four-legged graduate to walk the stage, complete with her own cheering section.
Watch the moment Paisley and Rath walked across the stage together.
“We are a success story," Trachtenbroit said. "I would say if a service animal might be a potential option, the best thing would be to get with your administration just to see how the logistics would work out with the school. But I know for us, with Morgan and Paisley, it was just an absolutely, awesome experience."
Rath and Paisley aren't stopping with a high school diploma.
With Paisley’s help, Rath discovered her newfound passion for writing. The high school grad has been accepted to Kennesaw State University and plans on a double major in English and business, with Paisley by her side every step of the way.
“She really put that hope into my life, because I didn’t have that before."