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Gabe and Izzy

Gabe and her constant companion Izzy.

Dancing around the house and performing was all Gabrielle Ford wanted to do. Each movement brought her closer to her goal; however, at age 13, her life was changed forever. Diagnosed with Friedreich's ataxia (FA), her speech slowed and she stumbled a lot. Wanting to keep the disease a secret from her friends in high school, bullies made her school years miserable. Spit wads, tripping, kicking and verbal abuse became a daily occurrence for Ford.

Following graduation, Ford retreated to her home and isolated herself from the world. After two years of seclusion, Ford decided that she wanted a dog. She chose the Black and Tan Coonhound because of their big, soft, floppy ears and their sad faces. She selected a puppy named Izabel – Izzy.

They became inseparable. Ford slowly emerged from her cocoon and found a friend in Izzy. One day, Ford found Izzy lying on the floor, unable to get up. After rushing Izzy to the Vet, she was diagnosed with a rare progressive muscular disease. Ford and Izzy had similar symptoms, including trouble with weakness and walking. Both now take coenzyme Q10 and vitamin E. They require special diets and occasionally suffer from weakness, tremors, fatigue and muscle atrophy. The need for each other is intense and deep.

Ford now travels around the country speaking out against bullying. Following her speeches at schools, she usually receives a standing ovation. Izzy is right by her side. They have been featured on numerous television programs and several magazines. She is writing her autobiography and is planning a line of children's books starring herself and Izzy. Thanks to Izzy, Ford feels that she is "spreading her wings wider every day. Who know what branch I'll land on next?"