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Photo of bride, service dog goes viral

SIOUX FALLS--Maddie Peschong didn't mean to go viral. But one of the first things she saw Thursday morning was a photo she took trending on Reddit. "That was not something I expected when I woke up this morning," Peschong said. "About the time I ...

Valerie Parrott and her service dog, Bella, are pictured at her wedding Saturday in Sioux Falls, in a photo that went viral this week. (Photo courtesy of Mad Photo and Design)
Valerie Parrott and her service dog, Bella, are pictured at her wedding Saturday in Sioux Falls, in a photo that went viral this week. (Photo courtesy of Mad Photo and Design)

SIOUX FALLS-Maddie Peschong didn't mean to go viral. But one of the first things she saw Thursday morning was a photo she took trending on Reddit.

"That was not something I expected when I woke up this morning," Peschong said. "About the time I texted (Valerie) this morning that it was on Reddit, she texted me."

Peschong, a 24-year-old Mitchell native, now lives in Sioux Falls and owns her own photography studio, Mad Photo and Design. On Saturday, Peschong photographed a wedding for former Mitchell High School classmate, Valerie (Menning) Parrott, who married Andrew Parrott in Sioux Falls. Then, the day after, Peschong did what she typically does and shared a couple of photos online from the wedding.

The photo she chose captured a moment between Parrott, 25, and her yellow lab, Bella. It shows Parrott in her wedding dress ready to walk down the aisle. Bella, a medical alert and psychiatric service dog, is dressed in a tutu leaning against Parrott's knees, using one of her tactics to keep her handler calm.

Peschong said she "thought it needed to be shared," but did not expect the photo to get the response that it has.

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"I just thought, 'this is a really sweet photo of a girl and her dog,' " Peschong said Thursday. "That was about all that crossed my mind."

Parrott describes it as a moment where Bella was just trying to do her job.

"A little moment," Parrott said. "Like maybe three minutes before the photo was taken, she alerted to my high anxiety, and she was trying to get me to refocus on the day and how to enjoy it."

But, before long, someone-they don't know who-submitted the photo to Reddit, which is an open-source website where community members contribute content. These "redditors," as they're known, vote on what the top stories and discussions are.

On Thursday, an excited Peschong posted on Facebook that her photo was No. 3 on Reddit-and it didn't take long for others to notice.

Peschong said the photo has gained attention from outlets like Mashable, Good Morning America, a news source in Michigan and HuffPost Weddings, which soon had a story posted on www.huffingtonpost.com with the tagline, "Best friends fur-ever."

For Peschong, the best part hasn't been the national spotlight as much as the support that has poured in from family and friends. People have "come out of the woodwork," she said to offer congratulations and encouragement as the photo has gained attention.

"That's probably been the coolest part of it," Peschong said. "That's been really, really cool, just to see all the people that are noticing it, too."

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And, that it's a picture of a friend and a client makes it that much better. Peschong and Parrott both graduated from MHS in 2009, and both now live in Sioux Falls. Peschong's parents, Pat and Lori Essig, both still live in Mitchell-as do Parrott's parents, Kurt and Rosemary Menning. Peschong said she and Parrott reconnected through Parrott's wedding.

"For both of us, it's really, really cool," she said.

Parrott said even such a simple moment, while seen as sweet to the general public, has much deeper meaning for her, who described Bella as "an extended part of me."

"In the photo it really just shows the bond of a service dog and her handler and how much you have to be attuned to each other, and really thrive and make things work," Parrott said. "It's hard to really explain and put into words just how important she is to me, and I think what's cool about that photo is that it kind of does that."

Parrott also champions the use of service dogs, and hopes that the sudden attention to her photo will help people understand the different needs there are for such animals.

"It was really crazy, really unbelievable and helps raise awareness that service dogs can be for many kinds of illnesses," Parrott said. "We've gotten a lot of calls from places that want to know more."

But at the end of the day, for Valerie Parrott, that photo showcases just one thing.

"I think the best part about this photo is that it really shows the bond that Bella and I have. I mean, when you're paired with a service dog you have to put your life in their paws every day," she said. "That photo really just shows everything you can't put into words. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that one really is."

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