Hasbrouck Heights sixth grader Erin Bischoff always has a lot of support in her family, friends and the school community. But soon the youngster will be getting yet one more best friend, a furry one in fact, who will be by her side day and night.
Young Bischoff, who suffers from a rare fragile bone disease which has her wheel-chair bound, has been sponsored by Milkbone and Sam's Club to receive a Canine Assistants dog, a special dog that is breeded and trained to assist youngsters who have disabilities.
On Wednesday, Erin and her family were joined by dozens of her middle school classmates, her principal Joe Mastropietro, Superintendent Mark Porto and many other members of the Hasbrouck Heights school community in celebration of a special presentation at Sam's Club in Edison.
Erin's mother Michelle says these specially trained dogs can do up to 92 commands. Erin and her family will need to go to Georgia where Canine Assistants is based to meet her dog and train with it. The children don't pick the dogs, the dogs pick the children, her mother explained. A date and time have not been yet set but it's anticipated that Erin will meet her dog within the coming year.
The dog will be with her at all times, even in school, explained her mother. The dog will be able to open doors for her and pick things up and can even call 9-1-1 if she were to get hurt, her mother says. It'll give her some independence as she will even be able to stay at home on her own.
Erin has broken her arms and legs countless times over the years and has had multiple surgeries, her mother explained. It's a rare disease known as Osteogenesis imperfecta which only between 30 to 50 people have in the country, she said.
With a dog by her side, it will also be easier for Erin to make her way through large crowds which her mother says can be a challenge for her as many don't tend to see a person in a wheelchair as easily. This will protect Erin from accidental injuries in crowded environments.
She is greatful to Milkbone and Sam's Club for the sponsorship. A Canine Assistants dog costs about $20,000 to $25,000 to raise and train.
The Hasbrouck Heights Mickey's Kids Foundation, founded by Tom and Michele Meli, a large supporter of Canine Assistants were on hand at the presentation with. Liberty welcomed Erin and all her classmates to the event.
Mastropietro said about 40 fellow sixth grade students joined Erin on the trip along with several members from the school community and the Board of Education. He said it was a great day and the students all enjoyed a lunch of pizza and sandwiches provided by Sam's Club.