Dogs Help Sniff Out Peanut Allergies

Specially-trained pooches are guiding people away from dangerous allergens

By Lynn Berry
|  Saturday, Nov 14, 2009  |  Updated 4:00 PM EDT
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Girl's Best Friend

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Girl's Best Friend

An allergy to peanuts kept a young girl from doing the things she loved. Now, thanks to her mother and her dog Rocko, the sky's the limit.
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Riley Mers looks like any other 9 year old little girl, but.what you can't see is her severe and life-threatening allergy to peanuts. 

"The last time she actually touched some peanut residue to her face, within six minutes her lip had swollen to where she couldn't breath through her nostril" said Riley's Mom Sherry. 

That's why Sherry Mers started Angel Service Dogs.  A non-profit organization dedicated to placing Allergy Alert Dogs, trained to detect life-threatening allergens, with those that need it most.  They are like seeing eye dogs for children with severe allergies to peanuts.  Instead of guiding them across busy city streets, these dogs steer their owners away from dangerous exposure to peanuts or peanut residue. 

The Colorado-based organization is barely a year old but has already placed 4 dogs with kids like Riley who were unable to experience the ease of childhood. 

"My parents are thinking about taking me to Disney world I'm going to be able to a lot of stuff that before I only dreamed of doing" Riley said.  The idea of going to a friend's house or even the mall was an unusual occurrence for Riley and reserved for special occasions like her birthday.

The dogs are bred and raised to be service dogs by approved Master Trainers who have an extensive background with developing detection dogs.   The pups also carry lifesaving medication in pouches on their back including an EpiPen, which can save the life of someone having an allergic attack.

Dr. Paul Ehrlich is a Manhattan allergist and explains that Riley is an extreme case.  While the number of children who suffer from peanut allergies has doubled in the past decade, there are very few patients with allergies so severe that they would need a service dog, according to Dr. Ehrlich. 

"It's an extra layer of security.  Is there a false sense there?  It's only as good as the dog"  Dr. Ehrlich said.

That's why Angel Service Dogs hopes volunteers will give their time toward their puppy-raising program.  The program places a puppy in a home for one year to learn basic obedience before getting their formal training.  The Mers say this would allow them to acquire a larger pool of dogs to train and therefore place in the home of those that need them most.

To learn more about Angel Service Dogs www.angelservicedogs.com.

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