It can be really frightening for parents of children who have severe, life threatening, allergies to send their child to school, the park, or even the grocery store. Its impossible to know, without a doubt, that the environment will be free from the allergens that your child reacts to. Fortunately, specially trained guide dogs can help sniff out allergens, before your child has a bad allergic reaction.
In general, people tend to understand why a person who is blind, or visually impaired, would benefit from having a guide dog. Most people realize that, in many ways, the dog is acting as the eyes of the person who is with him or her. People are starting to understand that children who have autism, and who wander, can benefit from having a service dog that helps to prevent the child from wandering off. Somehow though, the idea that an allergic child would need a specially trained dog seems to perplex some people.
This could be because there are a lot of people who really don’t have a clear understanding about how dangerous it can be for a severely allergic child to encounter an allergen that triggers a medically serious response in that child. There are a lot of people who are slightly allergic to dust, or ragweed. When they inhale particles of dust or pollen, they sneeze. It may be annoying, but it is not life threatening for them. People presume that since their own allergies are mild, that it is not possible for other children to be severely allergic to anything.
This lack of education has sparked a controversy in a school in Florida. A child who was in the first grade had a severe peanut allergy, and the school made appropriate accommodations to meet what essentially is the child’s special needs. Many parents who were ignorant about exactly what can happen to a child who encounters something that she is severely allergic to protested these accommodations. They complained that they did not want their children to have to make changes in order to allow the allergic child to safely attend school.
Another reason that most people don’t think about service dogs that can help allergic children is because this is a fairly new development. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around four out of every 100 children has a food allergy. Parents whose children have severe food allergies are just starting to ask trainers of service dogs for a dog that can help their child avoid allergens (such as peanuts).
These dogs can cost between $10,000 and $20,000. They are trained to sniff out a specific allergen, and to alert their handler (which can be a child) to avoid those allergens by using a signal. The signal could be that the dog puts its body in between the allergen and the child, which blocks the child from moving towards an area where an allergen is located.
Image by Pete Markham on Flickr