Best friend Woody opens the world for Hazel

After waiting for a very long two years, 6-year-old Hazel Norris of Otsego, Minn., finally met her special four-legged friend, Woody, in May.

Hazel has intractable epilepsy, which means that her frequent seizures cannot be completely controlled by medicine. Woody, a 16-month-old golden Lab mix, is part of a program known as 4 Paws for Ability, based in Xenia, Ohio.

Normally, families travel to Ohio for a two-week training before taking home their dog. But Hazel couldn’t travel due to an increase in seizure activity so, as part of a pilot program, the team came to her.

He’s a “very big, sturdy dog,” said Hazel’s delighted mom, Gina Norris, explaining that Woody is helping Hazel with balance and coordination, as well as providing distraction and comfort during blood draws and hospital stays. Plus, he’s absolutely the coolest companion any kid could hope for.

When Woody accompanied Hazel to school at Otsego Elementary on May 20, Gina watched her daughter transform before her eyes. “The children asked, ‘Hazel, can I pet your dog?’ and she looked them in the eyes and said, ‘Yes!’ I got goosebumps. She just lit up. For me, seeing her just being included and approached by people because of Woody … it’s just crazy cool what he does for hersocial.”


Nurse Rachel Hatcher helps Hazel Norris touch Woody’s paws after they meet for the first time.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune


Charlie Norris helps his daughter, Hazel, get adjusted to her new service dog, Woody. Her nurse Rachel Hatcher watched.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune


Nurse Rachel Hatcher holds Hazel as her father Charlie Norris learns how to train Woody at their home.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune


Hazel and her care team learn to navigate her school with Woody at Otsego Elementary School.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune


β€œIt will be hard for me not to pet Woody the dog since he’s working,” says special education teacher Stephanie LaBorde as she works with Hazel.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune


Hazel’s mother, Gina Norris, far right, introduced Woody to Hazel’s kindergarten class at Otsego Elementary.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune


Elsie Norris greeted her sister Hazel with a kiss before bringing her service dog into the classroom at Otsego Elementary.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune


Nurse Rachel Hatcher learns to give Woody commands as she plays with Hazel at the Norris home in Otsego.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune


Nurse Rachel Hatcher holds Hazel as she plays ball with Woody at her home.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune


Hazel, who has intractable epilepsy, met her new service dog Woody with a kiss as he was introduced by trainer Bethany Hickman at Hazel’s home in Otsego, Minn.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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