A dedicated member of Lakeside High School's staff was presented with an award recently.
The four-legged recipient goes by the name of Bijou.
The golden retriever's job is to assist and guide science teacher Cassandra Gentry, who was diagnosed seven years ago with retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic eye disease that limits her vision.
"I have to rely on her to save my life," Gentry said. "She relies on me, too."
The Augusta Humane Society presented the nearly 2-year-old canine with the Casie Ritchhart Memorial Award. A ceremony was held Dec. 16 in the school's media center, where Bijou was given a medal to wear around her neck.
The award was created in 1996 for Casie, a golden retriever that assisted a legally blind Augusta woman. It is given annually to an animal that significantly changes or saves the life of another animal or human.
Though the ceremony itself was a surprise to Gentry and Bijou, the teacher wasn't shocked to learn that her beloved dog was chosen for such an award.
"Bijou is absolutely amazing," she said. "She has saved my life and changed my life on all levels."
Gentry, who is in her fifth year of teaching, said she doesn't need much help from Bijou navigating the classroom or her house.
Instead, Bijou aids Gentry in maneuvering around parking lots and the school's hallways as well as inside stores and other unfamiliar spots.
The dog graduated from guidance training in June.
"She has enabled this lady," said Augusta Humane Society President Dolores Robinson.
Gentry hopes to participate in an April triathlon, which will raise money for the Leader Dogs for the Blind organization.
As far as Bijou's first semester at Lakeside, both Gentry and principal Jeff Carney believe the dog deserves an A-plus.
"It's gone so smoothly," Carney said. "It couldn't have gone any better.
"It's incredible what (Bijou) does."
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