Allergic girl’s dog protects her life
of Article: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/29895153/
water dog is specially trained to sniff out deadly allergen
By Mike Celizic
updated 8:37 a.m. PT, Thurs.,
March. 26, 2009
idea was born of the desperation that only parents of children with food
allergies so severe they are virtual prisoners in their own homes can fully
appreciate: If dogs can be trained to sniff out bombs and narcotics, why
not allergens such as peanut protein?
is the idea that came to Sherry and Brett Mers of Monument, Colo., whose
daughter, Riley, is so allergic to peanuts that simply touching a bit of
peanut shell can burn a hole in her skin and send her into life-threatening
was just running through the park playing with my sister in the sand, and I
thought a bee had stung me,” Riley said, recounting the story for TODAY
correspondent Jenna Wolfe Thursday from her home. “I started jumping up and
down and screaming. And I jumped to my mom and dad and they took the peanut
shell out, and I almost had to have a skin graft.”
Today, 8-year-old Riley
doesn’t have to fear a repeat of that frightening and painful experience.
As she sat next to her mother on their couch, her arms were wrapped around
the neck of a 2-year-old Portuguese water dog named Rock’O. Thanks to the
dog, Riley has been able to do simple things she couldn’t do before, like
going into a candy store and walking without fear through a mall.
was born with her allergy, which was diagnosed when she was 5 months old.
Peanut and other allergies run a range of severity, and Riley’s doctors
told her parents that the girl’s allergy was as extreme as it could be.
Inhaling even a minute quantity of peanut dust can be life-threatening.
peanut protein gets into her bloodstream, what happens with Riley and other
children that have anaphylactic allergies is, a lot of times they’ll have
eczema, also,” Sherry Mers told Wolfe. “So her skin cracks, and then
whenever she touches something, it gets straight into her bloodstream, and
that’s what causes her to go into anaphylaxis.
there’s a heavy peanut protein in the air, and she breathes it in and it
gets in her lungs … it can be very serious very quickly,” Mers added. “And
there’s no way for you to be able to tell all the places where a peanut
Merses had peanut-proofed their home when they learned of the allergy, but
Riley was a virtual prisoner there until she got Rock’O. She did go to
school occasionally, but had to stay in an isolation room. For the most
part, she studies online from her home. But now, because of Rock’O, she can
finally think about going to college someday.
The idea of training a dog to sniff allergens came to Sherry Mers
independently. She asked around and found out that there were at least two
organizations that train dogs for that purpose. The family got their dog
through one of them, Angel Service Dogs.
training isn’t cheap. The dog can’t make mistakes; it has to detect
allergens 100 percent of the time to protect its owner. Rock’O’s training
cost $10,000, which was more than the Merses could afford. But family and
friends donated the funds so Riley could gain some freedom and security.
Mers and her husband have gotten involved in training dogs themselves. To
keep Rock’O up to snuff — and sniff — Brett Mers has to put him through
peanut-finding exercises. Sherry has gotten involved by writing a kids’
book about allergen service dogs called “The Allergy Friend” that’s due to
be published in the fall.
for Riley, she’s just happy to be able to go out into the world. Since
getting Rock’O last month, she’s been saved several times from
life-threatening exposure to peanuts. One time was in her own backyard,
where Rock’O stopped her before she got near the shells of peanuts that
squirrels were eating in a tree.
asked Riley about her first trip inside a candy store, made possible by
was really cool, because the closest I ever get to a candy store is at the
checkout place where they have those shelves that have some candy on it,”
Riley said. Rock’O, who wears a bright yellow service-dog vest, steered her
away from the chocolate aisle and even detected peanut M&Ms that Sherry
Mers never saw. Riley ended up in the gummy candy aisle, where she bought a
big gummy butterfly.
you say Rock’O changed your life?” Wolfe asked Riley.
girl hugged her pal and guardian, smiled and replied with feeling, “I would