Running, riding bikes and even walking had always been a challenge for 11-year-old Bella Burton due to a rare genetic condition she was diagnosed with when she was 2 and a half. But ever since Bella began leaning on George, a 2-year-old Great Dane whom she met about a year ago through a local organization, she has ditched her wheelchair and crutches, and started to do all the things all the other healthy kids her age can with ease, WCVB reported.
The pair stay by each other’s side throughout the day— Bella’s 44-pound, 43-inch-tall body relying on 131-pound George’s frame to steady her as she holds onto a harness attached to his back, which hovers just below her shoulder. This system helps the fifth-grader navigate her elementary school’s halls. When she’s in class or eating lunch at the cafeteria, George simply rests at her feet, ABC News reported.
Over the past month, media have covered George and Bella’s friendship, which began a year ago, causing their story to go viral.
"I had wheelchairs, walkers, Canadian crutches, regular crutches, and then we got George and I dropped my crutches and started to use him," Bella, of Woburn, Mass., told WCVB.
Thanks to George, Bella can ride her bike, sled in the winter and even run along the beach in the summer.
"I don't remember the last time I watched my child run through the yard," Rachel Burton, Bella's mom, told reporters at TODAY. "Seeing her just run was amazing to us."
Bella’s condition, Morquio syndrome, occurs when the body does not have a sufficient amount of a substance required to break down long chains of a certain type of sugar molecule, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The syndrome leads to organ damage and causes abnormal development of the bones and spine, as well as a bell-shaped chest with ribs flared at the bottom and knock-knees. Cognitive development isn’t affected, but bone problems can lead to paralysis, and heart issues can lead to death, according to the NIH.
Morquio syndrome occurs in an estimated 1 in 200,000 births worldwide. Researchers are experimenting with enzyme replacement to treat Morquio syndrome, but they have not yet found a cure.
TODAY reported that the Burtons were not actively looking for a service dog to help Bella, but when they learned about the Service Dog Project, Inc. in Ipswich, Mass., they decided to reach out. The program trains Great Danes, which are known to have a calm and friendly demeanor, to help individuals with mobility and balance problems.
"Once we saw Bella being around those dogs, how she was always in such a great mood and she loved going there, we thought, 'What are we waiting for?'" Burton told TODAY.
In December, the Burtons are traveling to Orlando, Fla., where the American Kennel Club will honor George with its Award for Canine Excellence, WCVB reported.