Children with allergies get help from allergy-sniffing dogs

Dogs that sniff out life-threatening allergens like peanut butter and tree nuts are recognized medical service animals under the American with Disabilities Act. To the owners, especially young owners, of these dogs, their abilities can mean the difference between life and death. The increase in food allergies among American children over the last ten years means that more young people in the United States may need the services of allergy-sniffing dogs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that every four out of 100 children in the United States has a food allergy. Rates are the highest among children who are preschool age. Allergies among children have also been on the rise over the last decade. From 1997 to 2007 food allergies have increased nearly 20 percent among children under the age of 18. Experts have not determined what has caused the rise in allergies among American children.

The allergies of one 7-year-old girl who has deadly peanut and tree nut allergies began when she was an infant. Some have subsided as she has grown older, but today the assistance of an allergy-sniffing dog is required. The young girl’s allergies are so severe that she carries an inhaler, wipes, Benadryl and EpiPen injectors. Even trace amounts of peanut products or tree nuts can set off itching, hives or difficulty breathing.

The girl’s allergy dog is trained to place its body between the threatening allergen and the allergic individual. During one afternoon at a grocery store, the girl’s dog would not let her go down an aisle containing non-food stuffs. The dog was so unrelenting the girl’s mother thought there was something wrong with the dog, but when the mother checked the aisle there was a mouse trap with peanut butter on it.

Though the allergy dogs are allowed under the Americans with Disabilities Act, many people in public and private spaces react negatively to the dog. The young girl’s mother says she does not expect the world to change for her daughter but does expect the world to allow her to protect her daughter. The allergy-sniffing dog does just that.

Source: The Washington Post, “The nose knows: Allergy-sniffing dogs helping children with peanut allergies avoid exposures,” 6/9/11

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