When my son was 18-months-old we discovered he was allergic to peanuts. By the time he was 3, we were advised by doctors that the most microscopic amount of an ingested peanut would kill him; tactile sensitivity was a given and “cross-contamination” became our new catch phrase.

We adjusted our lives to traveling longer distances only by our own vehicle because of the peanut contamination on planes and trains. We took to avoiding hotels when traveling because no room could be completely sanitized from peanut residue; my husband and I would take turns driving and catching cat-naps in rest areas until we arrived at our destination—always that of another family member.

Dining out was extremely limited; careful internet research of menus and facilities, calling ahead to advise them of the situation, question their ingredients, preparation method, risk of cross contamination and, upon arrival, ensure that the chef, manager, hostess, and wait staff were aware we were on the premises. We partook of no potluck meals, and heavily scrutinized any get-togethers where children or food was involved. We left birthday parties early—when cake and various foods were offered because of the possibility of those items having been prepared/manufactured on equipment—or in a facility—that processed peanuts.

Play dates were allowed only in the homes of 1 or 2 non-allergic families and really good friends who understood the necessary safety precautions. We decided to home school to afford us better control over his environment. I did not want to become a hovering parent, but I also knew that, whenever we would leave the safety of our own home, he could not only never be out of my line of sight, but he could not be more than 15 to 20 seconds from me in distance…the amount of time I need to administer an epi-pen to counteract anaphylactic shock.

He is now almost 9. Our lives changed in April of this year when we were introduced to an extraordinary being: “Remy”, a 3-year-old black Labrador with a warm and loving personality and—what I believe to be—a college-educated mind. You see, Remy detects peanuts…before my son comes in contact with them. The added security of Remy’s companionship has allowed us to expand the horizons of my son’s world. We still home school, but Remy’s presence has enabled my son to engage in more “hands-on” interactive learning.

She has accompanied us on trips to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and Walt Disney World, and last month on an educational journey up and down the U.S. east coast. We not only felt safer visiting places like the lighthouse at Tybee Island, Georgia, The Crayola Factory in Pennsylvania, and Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, but we actually stayed in hotels! AND we were able to partake of their continental breakfasts, and other fare at restaurants in the general area.

Between Remy, with her peanut detection skills, and the training personnel of the Southern Star Ranch in Texas, new doors have been opened for us. Yes, they’re small things to the average individual but, to my son and me, they’re exciting adventures we never thought he would be able to enjoy.

I know I must remain cautious and alert; it is my job to ensure my child’s health and welfare to the best of my ability, and nothing can replace common sense and careful observation. But to know there is an added level of security—a layer of protection that I could provide in no other way—has endowed a confidence in both my son and myself that I never knew we could experience.

My son is still, of course, learning what to be aware of in food and social situations, what to look for on ingredient and warning labels, what he should and should not do, should and should not touch, to remain safe in a world where the most innocuous and minute thing as a peanut could kill him. And we have Remy now to help us with our vigilance.

 
*** photos coming soon ***
 

   

My young son is allergic to peanuts. If he is exposed to peanuts or peanut products, he could get a rash. Or, he could die.

As his mother, it is my job to protect my son, everyday. My son trusts me; his life is in my hands. And I am vigilant.

We read labels. We quiz restaurant chefs. We bring our own cake to birthday parties. We know what foods to avoid. We educate his teachers, camp directors and sitters. And we carry an EpiPen everywhere we go just in case. We have many tools to help us cope with my son’s allergy, but we are only human!

However, we’re not only human anymore!! Recently, we have added the most wonderful tool to our arsenal; Duncan, our beloved detection dog. Duncan is my son’s best friend and he is my hero. Equally vigilant and dedicated to my son as I am, Duncan is keenly more aware than I can physically be; Duncan inconspicuously sniffs the hands of friends when they come into our home. If our guest has been eating peanuts, Duncan immediately let’s us know that our guest must wash his hands or brush his teeth before visiting with my son. Duncan is a vested service dog and, as such, can accompany us anywhere. He may go, and because of his behavior, is welcomed to restaurant, hotels, school, shopping – anywhere my son needs to go!

When my son started asking for a dog, a friend who is a policeman suggested we look into a detection dog – one trained to detect peanuts. We thought this was a great idea, though we had never heard of an allergy dog. When we contacted Southern Star Ranch, the experts there said they could make this happen. And they did. The rest is history.

We love our dog but, even more, we love the fact that our son is more independent, and can be confident with Duncan, committed to protecting him, by his side; we are eternally grateful to the experts at Southern Star Ranch who found Duncan (a “hypoallergenic breed” since our son has asthma!!) and trained him to be exactly what we needed – a loving companion, and ever alert guardian against peanuts. If you ask us, Lassie’s got nothing on Duncan!