Mason Burns has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Diagnosed at 5, in the time since, the disease — a rare disorder marked by steady muscle degeneration — has taken its toll. Mason is partially wheelchair-bound, and it has been difficult navigating the halls of Carson City Elementary School. So much so that it was recommended he get a service dog.
Except the price tag on such a companion is $12,000, not something his family had lying around in a shoebox.
Inspired by the an idea pitched the previous year by Mason’s second grade teacher, Tiffany Ryan, his student council-empowered classmates took up the torch and began fundraising to get their friend the help he needed, spreading the word to every classroom and points beyond, mobilizing members of this small Michigan community into action.
“If you see a person who needs help, you help them, and we wanted to do that with Mason,” said third grade student council member Klouse Andrews, 10, in a piece by The Daily News.
Ryan told reporter she felt compelled to help students come together to his aid through a student service learning project after having Mason as a student in her second grade classroom.
“We saw the need as he started having trouble getting up and things like that,” she said. “At the end of last year it was discussed, how do we help him with his anxiety, how do we help him get around? Even playing at recess was a big thing for him, because he didn’t have anyone to play with.”
As soon as the thought of a service dog came to mind, Ryan ran the idea by her students. The third graders were 100 percent behind it. And now — through a school penny drive and other outside donations — they have reached their goal.
Mason now navigates the halls, the classrooms and the playground with Spider, a Dutch shepherd whose special training was covered by the fundraising. In fact, the check for $13,288 will also help cover some additional training and even veterinary care going forward.
Students got the chance to meet Spider early on, before his training was complete, and learned the proper ways to behave around them.
“I had heard about service dogs, but when I saw Spider help Mason, I was amazed,” Klouse said. “The fact that normal dogs that aren’t trained, usually they want to lead you, but with dogs like Spider, he stayed right beside him the entire time.”
Spider now helps Mason do everything from getting out of bed in the morning to picking up things he drops. He even helps Mason calm down during moments of frustration.
“When I get mad, I’ll be able to pet him,” he told the Daily News back in March, before Spider was ready to come home. “That will help a lot.”