“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…”
Maybe they weren’t in Kansas – or the enchanted World of Oz. Yet, the Hasbrouck Heights High School production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ still took the world by storm in a very magical way.
Instead of the iconic little black Terrier that starred in the original (and many adaptions), the high school play instead starred a cream-colored golden retriever service dog as Toto, and his human, Erin Bischoff, as Dorothy.
Gauge the Service Pup
The golden retriever, Gauge, is well-known and loved at Hasbrouck High School – but for a completely different reason than his heartwarming performance as Toto. His full-time job, both on and off stage, is keeping a watchful eye over his human.
You see, Gauge is Erin’s service dog.
Erin Bischoff, who put on the breathtaking performance as Dorothy, has been performing since the sixth grade. This is quite admirable, as the 17-year-old student faces a tough challenge every day of her life: Osteogenesis Imperfecta. Osteogenesis Imperfecta, also known as the “brittle bone disease”, renders Erin wheelchair-bound.
In the past, Erin’s mom, Michelle Bischoff, would use a blunt example to help teach the other students about her daughter’s challenges. This involved dropping a piece of chalk to the ground, where it would then shatter – demonstrating the fragile nature of Erin’s bones.
Yet, despite climbing the uphill battle on a daily basis, Erin has never given up hope. She is constantly chasing her dreams.
And, with Gauge at her side, she is ready to take on the world.
Star of the Stage
The first step was landing the lead in her high school’s production of “The Wizard of Oz”.
“I was more expecting like a secondary role,” Erin told NJ.com. “I was not expecting a lead. That had not happened before.”
The director of the play, Paula Jacobs, disagreed.
“Erin was just really appropriate for the role, in so many ways,” Jacobs explained.
Jacobs was also adamant against using a prop for Toto. If it weren’t for Gauge already being at Erin’s side 24/7, she would’ve ended up using one of the students. But Gauge was the perfect opportunity to really match the character to the role. Plus, it wasn’t the pup’s first time on stage.
“Before he was just an unnamed dog,” said Erin.
Not anymore. Gauge earned his place as a full-blown lead – the second star of the show!
Of course, having Gauge as one of the leads involved a few learning curves. The smart pup had his own cues to learn, as well as actions to perform. And while Gauge didn’t always stick to script (sometimes he’d walk the wrong way!), he was still one of the most loved characters in the production.
“He personifies Toto in so many ways,” Jacobs said. “The kids in the audience really respond[ed] to him.”
Having Gauge star in the show also presented the chance to help students learn about improvisation. In the end, it was a win-win for everyone involved!
Gauge Goes to College
It’s off to college for this pup!
“Erin’s willing to take on everything,” Michelle told NJ.com. “I, on the other hand, think of every apocalyptic thing that can go on. If she gets hurt, it’s a major injury.”
To be precise, Erin has already broken her arms and legs 103 times. But she and Gauge aren’t letting that stop them – they’ll be headed to Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) in the fall. While Erin agreed to choose FDU for its location (close to home in case of an emergency), the school isn’t exactly a bad choice.
In fact, Fairleigh Dickinson University placed 62 (out of 196) in US News’s 2019 list of the Best Northern Universities (North Rankings). During her time at FDU, Erin plans to major in health studies. However, her long-term goal is to study law. According to her mom, the plan might even include specializing in the American With Disabilities Act, to help others with similar struggles.
Gauge will, of course, be accompanying Erin on every step of her journey.