A Great Dane has given an 11-year-old girl in Woburn, Massachusetts, a new “leash” on life. Bella has Morquio syndrome, a metabolic disorder in which the sugar molecules are not correctly broken down, disrupting the system and attacking the bone growth. Bella was diagnosed at age two, and since that time has gone through nine major surgeries. Bella had a lot of trouble with mobility, despite the medical treatments.
The Great Dane is the breed of choice for people with mobility issues, and the dogs are specially trained for the job by the Service Dog Project. A nonprofit based in Ipswich, Massachusetts, their website explains why they chose Great Danes to d0 the work.
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“Great Danes are well suited to home and office life. The fact that Danes require less exercise than many breeds is a good fit for some people with disabilities. Danes are content to have a few walks every day and then nap in the corner until their services are needed. Their perfect public persona makes them very conducive to help with the isolation and depression which often accompanies disabilities.”
A 12-acre facility with an arena and heated kennels, the Service Dog project raises Great Danes from the time they are puppies. They have a staff of 30 volunteers to work with the dogs. They are entirely funded by donations and corporate support. Puppies are born at the facility, bred from a line of four generations of working Danes, and some imports from Europe. The pups are handled profusely from birth, including being bottle fed goat’s milk in addition to nursing, and then spoon fed when weaned. They are taught from the beginning that no food aggression is allowed. Volunteers take the puppies around the farm and handle them daily.
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As pups grow, their personalities are evaluated and they continue to be socialized, in public settings as well as with the adult dogs. By the time they are a year old, they have had extensive obedience training, both on and off lead. The website explains what happens with puppies who, for whatever reason, don’t make the cut.
“We have a very low percentage of “fabulous failures” but when we do they are adopted by caring people usually our volunteers.”
Once the dogs reach maturity, they are trained to match the speed of the handler, ease through doorways and narrow spaces, and focus on the task at hand in spite of various distractions. The dogs are also mellow enough to fall asleep anywhere in public during resting periods.
By this time, there is a recipient in mind for the particular dog, and the training becomes specific for the future handler’s needs. The dogs learn to pick items up, open doors, pull wheelchairs, or act as a brace, depending on whatever the job will require.
Bella was presented with her 2-year-old black and white Dane, named George, in January 2015. According to WCBV5 News, Bella said it didn’t take them long to get acquainted, and the experience was life-changing.
“I had wheelchairs, walkers, Canadian crutches, regular crutches, and then we got George and I dropped my crutches and started to use him.”
The size difference is remarkable. Bella weighs about 44 pounds. George tips the scales at around 136. He stands right about armpit height, offering her maximum stability.
Bella and George have their own Facebook page, so friends and fans can see what they are up to. They have racked up a following of over 17,000. For his excellent service, George is one of five dogs to receive the AKC Ace Award, which “honors dogs that have had a significant impact on their owners and communities.”
There is plenty more excitement for Bella, as she will be featured on a Japanese TV show about animals in March.
HNGN reports that Bella has grown stronger since having George. There is no cure for Morquio syndrome, but there are treatments. Bella has benefited from enzyme transfusions, and one very special Great Dane.
[Image via Frank Franklin II/AP Photo]