Wednesday, February 18, 2009

News Reel - Peanut Dog

Here's an interesting spinoff from sniffer dogs. This dog has been trained to sniff out Peanuts! Very awesome. Check out the article below. I had to copy and paste because the page it was on is really poorly set up and difficult to read. Here's the original page link if you are interested- it's the Denver Post.


Dog has a nose for peanuts, girl's safety
A child allergic to even a faint trace can get out more into the world, thanks to her buddy.
By Brian Newsome The Gazette
Posted: 02/18/2009 12:30:00 AM MST

MONUMENT — Eight-year-old Riley Mers still has a scar on her foot from a peanut shell that slipped into her sandal at a park, burning her skin like acid.

She has gone into hives and struggled to breathe from inhaling peanut residue too faint for humans to smell. In her short life, she has learned enough about emergency rooms to know she doesn't like the "dresses" she has to wear.

But the Monument child with the dangerous food allergy has an ally that might restore some sense of normalcy to her life: a Portuguese water dog named Rock'O. The dog has been trained to detect the presence of peanuts before she can, potentially saving her life and helping her to get out more in public.

Until now, every encounter has been nerve-racking.

"It's just so life-changing, you wouldn't believe it," she said, calling the black, curly-haired dog her "guardian angel."

The girl received her dog Sunday after he underwent six months of training. Rock'O will go wherever she does, alerting her to the presence of peanuts.

Peanuts are used in far more ways than providing spread for a sandwich or a salty snack, and her allergy is sensitive enough for the most minuscule exposure to cause problems. Some potting soils, for example, contain peanut shells as filler.

She attends a few classes at Kilmer Elementary School, in Lewis-Palmer School District 38, but gets most of her education online. The school does not serve peanut butter, but a child bringing a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich to school could create a danger for Riley.

Such situations won't change, but Rock'O will provide "long-range radar" for Riley, said her dad, Brett Mers.

The dog might stop her from going into a room if it smells peanuts. If a parent or someone is with her, they can enter the room with Rock'O and, like a bomb or drug dog, sniff out the source and remove it.

Rock'O was trained at the Florida Canine Academy under master trainer Bill Whitstine, who donated his services to the family. Although Whitstine has long trained dogs to detect bombs, narcotics, flammable materials and bed bugs, this was his first for peanut allergies.

"This really is a bomb dog for this child," said Whitstine, "because the peanut is a bomb for her."
While the new use of canines holds promise, it is not without potential problems. Chief among them is cost. The labor to train a dog to detect peanuts drives the price to about $10,000. And if a dog has an off day or is not properly trained, the consequences can be severe.

"It has to be done right, because somebody's life depends on this dog," said Sharon L. Perry, who claims to have trained the first peanut-detecting dog three years ago and is director of training at the Southern Star Ranch Boarding Kennel, in Florence, Texas.

For Riley, Rock'O means a chance to go to birthday parties and the mall with a little less fear.
"I could do a back flip," she said about her excitement. "My friends — it's not their fault that they eat peanut butter."

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