Bella Burton is a chipper, hopeful 11-year-old who loves going to the beach, sledding, and all the things little girls usually love. But until George came along a year ago, Bella wasn’t able to do any of these things. That’s because Bella was born with a rare condition, Morquio syndrome.
Morquio syndrome doesn’t affect Bella’s cognitive abilities, but it does affect the development of her bones and spine, and can lead to paralysis, organ damage, and even death. Before Bella met George a year ago, she’d tried to maintain her mobility with a variety of different types of crutches and other assistance devices. But despite her tenacity, enthusiasm, and nine major surgeries, Bella’s parents worried that she was losing strength in her lower body. Her dependence on crutches was causing her to swing her legs rather than use them to support her, which could have led to progressive loss of muscle mass.
A service dog wasn’t on the Burton’s list of possible solutions until they heard about the Service Dog Project in Ipswich, Massachusetts. This very special program focuses on one breed—and type—of service dog: Great Danes that receive special training to aid those who struggle with mobility. People like Bella. They even donate these special animals to those who need them.
Great Danes are ideal for the job both because of their physical capabilities and because of their signature gentle, easy going attitudes. At 131 lbs, George is 3 time’s Bella’s weight—and he’s more than happy to help her carry that weight. Mobility service dogs wear a special harness that allows the dog to help provide stability and balance to their human friends.
Bella and George are perfectly matched, allowing her to walk with one arm over his shoulders. But it’s not simply that George provides a crutch. His love and encouragement helped to motivate Bella to regain her lower body strength.
Now the two are inseparable. George accompanies Bella to classes, napping under her desk while she does her school work, and chaperoning her through the hallways. He even goes to Bella’s doctor’s appointments with her—a six hour weekly ordeal where Bella must receive an infusion of medication that helps her maintain her energy levels. As Bella’s mom explained to TODAY, this was one of the more difficult tasks for George in the beginning—because it was difficult for him to understand that the IV would help Bella.
Dogs have assisted human beings throughout our very long history together, and George is continuing that loving tradition with his loyal, affectionate, and thorough care of Bella. Many other children with Morquio syndrome are in wheelchairs by the time they reach Bella’s age. Thanks in part to her parents’ persistence, Bella’s bravery, and gentle George’s devotion, Bella is able to walk short distances on her own, go sledding, play at the beach, and attend her classes with her best friend by her side.