Bella Burton has a rare condition that limits her mobility, and she’s spent plenty of time in hospital as a result. Bella has battled her health issue with a giant dog by her side, however – and the straps on his back reveal the very special service he provides.
Little Bella lives in Woburn, Massachusetts, with her family. When she was just two years old, though, her mom and dad noticed that she wasn’t growing as much as she ought to be. As a consequence, they decided to consult a doctor in order to get to the bottom of the issue.
However, Bella’s symptoms left the physician mystified, and so he recommended that the toddler undergo a battery of genetic tests to reveal the problem. That’s when the Burton family discovered that their little girl had Morquio syndrome.
Morquio syndrome is a rare genetic defect, occurring in approximately one in every 200,000 births. The progressive condition prevents the body from breaking down sugar chains known as glycosaminoglycans; it also affects growth and bone development.
Consequently, by the time that Bella was 11 years old, she relied on a wheelchair or crutches to get around. And this had a devastating effect on the little girl’s happiness. “I’m just like, I don’t want this anymore,” she told dog-centric website BarkPost in 2016.
Nine major surgeries would be enough to last anyone a lifetime; for Bella, however, those operations on her feet and hips had already been part and parcel of her short life. And now that she was relying on crutches to balance, her parents worried that she was losing vital strength in her legs.
Her mom Rachel explained to BarkPost, “Morquio syndrome is a rare progressive disorder. So it affects Bella’s mobility.” And, naturally, she was eager to give her daughter more independence. As a result, then, the pair both started volunteering at the Service Dog Project in Ipswich, MA.
This organization trains Great Danes as service dogs for the mobility impaired and those with balance limitations. And while the project is particularly aimed at veterans, it also helps children and anyone with disorders that affect mobility.
What’s more, the Service Dog Project has up to 30 canines in training at its 12-acre site at any one time. It was there that Bella first met Great Dane George, whose impressive stature made him a good fit for pretty much anybody with mobility issues.
And Bella and George seemingly hit it off right away. Recalling their first meeting, service dog trainer Megan Kokaras revealed to BarkPost, “One day Bella climbed up with George, and she just started talking to George. Next thing you know, his head was in her lap. He’s just looking up at her like she was the best thing in the whole world.”
Indeed, Bella knew almost immediately that George was the dog for her. “I could tell he needed me, and I needed him,” she later revealed. So, more than a year after she started volunteering at the Service Dog Project, she got a canine friend of her own.
At first, the Burtons took George home for a weekend at a time. Then, in January 2015 the Great Dane went to live with the family for good. And the move was completely life-changing for Bella. Now, she had someone with her at all times – even at school and during her medical appointments.
What’s more, with her new best friend by her side, Bella began walking again; she even learned how to ride a bike. “First time I walked with George it was amazing,” the young girl said to BarkPost. “It was like, I haven’t walked in so long, and now I get to do it again.”
And perhaps no one was happier with the progress that Bella had made than her mom Rachel. On one occasion, she even witnessed her daughter playing in the garden as George watched on from the sidelines – and, naturally, Rachel was astonished by the vision.
Speaking to Today in 2015, Rachel revealed, “I don’t remember the last time I watched my child run through the yard. Seeing her just run was amazing to us.” As a result, the Burtons decided that George should be rewarded.
With that in mind, the family contacted the doggy-centric website BarkPost, who decided to treat George as part of its “Dog’s Best Day” series. As part of the special occasion, the Great Dane visited Boston’s Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel before chowing down on a feast of “people food” at the city’s famous Wahlburgers restaurant.
After that, George got to play in the snow as he and Bella enjoyed some sledding. Then, after working up an appetite on the slopes, the pair visited a special doggie bakery, where George got his paws on lots of tasty treats.
Following their action-packed day, George and Bella returned to their hotel room, which was filled with brand-new toys and canine accessories. Among the goodies, however, Bella also found a note. It revealed that BarkPost had donated $1,000 to the Service Dog Project in her name. That way, more people could enjoy a bond like the one that she and George shared.
No one knows what the future holds for Bella, though. Some people with Morquio syndrome have lived only to their 20s, while others are still going strong into their 40s. Experts will continue to monitor Bella’s condition throughout her lifetime, however, to give her the best shot at survival.
And while that may seem to be a scary prognosis, the youngster is still thriving with George at her side,. “He’s the one that made me more independent than I ever could be,” Bella gushed to BarkPost. “He’s always there to cheer you up. He is my best friend.”