We’re not in Kansas, where in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, where Erin Bischoff is taking the stage at Hasbrouck Heights High School as Dorothy in a production of the The Wizard of Oz, and joining her on stage in a very special Toto: her service dog Gauge.
According to NBC New York, Bischoff has osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as brittle bone disease, and uses a wheelchair. Canine Assistants, a non-profit in Alpharetta, Georgia, placed the 6-year-old golden retriever with the teen four years ago as a mobility dog.
“We are definitely a team. We help each other. We’re partners to put it simply. He is a mobility dog, so he does physical tasks like retrieving items, opening doors, pulling my chair, crowd control (he blocks people from bumping me),” Bischoff told PEOPLE.
As part of this sweet partnership, the high school senior speaks at schools to teach kids about the different kinds of service dogs, “service dog etiquette and disability acceptance.” She has also included Gauge in her performances throughout high school and middle school.
Toto was the golden’s largest role yet. In the past, Gauge joined his owner on stage, but didn’t have a part of his own. So when Bischoff was casted as the lead in The Wizard of Oz, a role she says she did not expect to get, she and her castmates pulled together to turn Gauge into the perfect Toto.
“I wasn’t used to having him be an actual character so it was a bit harder to work with since Toto has a lot of different cues and entrances and exits throughout the show,” Bischoff said of the process. “But we worked out how we would get him to understand his cues with time, training, compromise, and modification.”
Gauge’s owner feels that the service dog did a great job stepping up to the new challenge, and has several well-earned naps coming his way once the production is over.
While Bischoff loves acting and the friends she has met during her school performances, it is far from her only passion.
“I also participate in the jazz, concert, and marching band, and I’m the varsity wrestling team’s stat girl/team manager,” she shared, adding that she also works part-time at a local movie theater.
Now that her senior year is almost over, Bischoff is also looking ahead to the future.
“I’m going to be attending Fairleigh Dickinson University – Metropolitan Campus as a Health Studies major,” she said of her plans after graduating from Hasbrouck Heights High School. “I’m hoping to go into law in the future.”
Fans of Gauge and Bischoff’s partnership, can learn more about the pair by following Gauge’s Instagram.