Teen reveals dog has given her the strength to walk, cycle and swim

Teen who expected to spend her life in a wheelchair after being born with a rare disorder reveals how a Great Dane helped her defy the odds to walk, cycle and swim

  • Bella Burton, 13, from New Hampshire, was born with Morquio syndrome
  • Medical experts believed she would never be unable to ride a bike or swim 
  • She was able to strengthen her legs within three years with the help of a dog 

A teen born with a rare and progressive muscle wasting condition, who expected to end up confined to a wheelchair, has revealed how her Great Dane has helped her embrace a normal life. 

Appearing on Channel 5 documentary Dogs With Extraordinary Jobs, Bella Burton, 13, from Pleasant Lake, New Hampshire, revealed how four-year-old, Great Dane, George, gave her the strength to walk without using crutches.

Bella was born with Morquio syndrome, which severely limits her mobility, and her mother Rachel revealed that she needed crutches by the age of ten and was told that she’d soon be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. 

However, Bella whose legs had been wasting away, was able to support her weight after six months with George. 

‘My leg muscles got really weak and it was hard to walk, but once I got George it kind of forced me to walk,’ she explained. 

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Bella Burton (pictured), 13, from Pleasant Lake, New Hampshire, USA, revealed how her service dog George has helped her to walk, run and swim 

Three years before Bella (pictured age ten) got George, she would have to rely on crutches or a wheelchair as Morquio syndrome impacted her mobility

Bella (pictured) is now able to swim, dive and do flips in water after matching with George as a volunteer at the Service Dog Project in Ipswich, Massachusetts

Bella was matched with George while working at the Service Dog Project in Ipswich, Massachusetts. 

She recounts the dogs running away from her when she first joined the centre, known for matching people who have disabilities with Great Danes. 

Bella said: ‘When I started to volunteer at the service dog it was just fun because I got to spend time with all of my favourite animals all of the time.

‘It didn’t seem like work, it kind of seemed just like hanging out with all my friends and the animals.

‘I’m an animal person so I liked all of the dogs, but none of them really liked me. It’s because of my voice, it’s like high pitched.’

After a while George was the only dog who would stay in his kennel when Bella entered. 

Bella’s mother Rachel, admits she was nervous about pairing Bella with George due to his size, at the time she was 40lbs, meanwhile he was 130lbs

She continued: ‘At first he started to run off and then slowly after a while he just stayed. And then I would be brushing him out and he wouldn’t let me leave.

‘Like he’d either block the door or try to sit on my lap so that I couldn’t leave. 

‘Then we started to take him home for weekends and stuff, we’d hang out and play. He’d get use to the family and then after awhile he became mine.’

Rachel was apprehensive that Bella would be able to control George as at the time they were paired she was just 40lbs, meanwhile he was 130lbs.  

Since living with George, Bella (pictured) has been able to walk around the house and regain her independence 

Rachel said: ‘George knew what Bella needed and right when she needed it. If she needed to walk slower, George would slow down so that they could walk right side-by-side.

‘If she was having a good day and could walk faster, he would walk faster. He knew what she needed right when she needed.’

Bella’s doctors were surprised by how her leg definition improved along with her mental outlook. 

The thirteen-year-old said the Great Dane, who received an award for his help towards her, can be protective.  

Rachel said: ‘A lot of kids by thirteen with morquio are confined to wheelchairs already. Bella was told she’ll never ride a bike and she was determined to get on a two-wheeler and ride a bike.

‘George likes to stay right nearby, he chases her and runs alongside. He tries to keep up with her wherever she is. We were told she’ll never be able to swim, now watching her out there kicking, diving, doing flips, it’s amazing. 

‘The strength she has with George now, her ability to just be a kid is awesome. She likes to prove everyone wrong and do things she’s told she’ll never do.

Twitter users were stunned by the service dog and praised Channel 5 for highlighting his work

‘He has given her independence. She’s able to now walk around the house without George. She can walk up and down our stairs without a lot of help, where as three years ago a lot of these things she couldn’t do.’ 

Social media users were impressed by how George helped to transform Bella’s life and took to Twitter to praise the canine.

One person said: ‘Watching dogs with extraordinary jobs is literally so heartwarming’

Another added: ‘It’s actually amazing what dogs are capable of with the right sort of training. Who knows where we’d be without them’


Morquio syndrome, also known as Mucopolysaccharidosis Type 4, is a rare, inherited birth disorder.

The syndrome is an autosomal recessive trait, meaning both parents must be carriers of the gene that causes Morquio for their child to be diagnosed with it. 

It is caused by mutations in the GALNS gene or the GLB1 gene, which provide instructions for producing enzymes that break down long sugar-molecule chain known as glycosaminoglycans.

These molecules build a number of different body parts including skin, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and bone.

It it estimated to affect one in 250,000 births with symptoms appearing between ages one and three

Signs and Symptoms: 

  • Short height
  • Abnormal bone development 
  • Easily bendable joints
  • Knock kneeds
  • Large head, with a very short torso

Because of the lack of enzymes, Morquio can damage a child’s physical capabilities and cause enlarged organs, scoliosis, a heart murmur, and breathing problems.

There is currently no cure for Morquio syndrome. Current treatment options include enzyme replacement therapy, gene therapy and bone marrow transplants. 

Cognitive function is not affected by Morquio but life expectancy could reduced depending on how serve the symptoms are. 

 Source: National Institutes of Health

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