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The Peanut Section

Peanut Detector Dogs

We’ve all seen dogs at the airport, sniffing luggage furiously for drugs. Sharon Perry, owner of the Southern Star Ranch in Florence, Texas, had been teaching pooches like that narcotics, arson and termite detection for years when she was approached by the mother of a peanut-allergic child in 2005 about the possibility of training a dog to detect the allergen. Perry decided that it was a challenge she was eager to take on, and Peanut Detector Dogs were born.

About half of the 50 to 60 dogs that Perry trains in a year are now for people with peanut or other allergies (including tree nut and egg), with 10 already in homes across the United States. “There are a lot of people who really need them,” she says.

The dogs are mainly young (1- to 2-year-old) rescues from shelters, and Perry looks for good working breeds, such as poodles and Labrador retrievers. Perry and a colleague, Leslie Staven,  spend six months preparing the dogs, then work with owners for two weeks on handling, commands and “reading” the dog’s responses, which include sitting firmly by the contaminated object and touching a container with the nose when given the “show me” command.

Karen Jones* of Tampa, Florida, attests to the dogs’ effectiveness. Billy, her 9-year-old son, has a peanut detector dog that accompanies him everywhere from Spanish class to Disney World.

Upon entering a classroom one day, Remy, the black lab, put her nose on top of a box of craft supplies, indicating peanut was present. “I said, ‘show me better,’” recounts Jones. “I swear, she took the lid off the box, took something out with her teeth, and shook it at me.”

The dogs don’t come cheap, at $9,995 US, which includes training, accommodation at the ranch during owner sessions, and follow-up. But for Jones, at least, knowing there’s a super-sensitive snout protecting Billy is priceless. “That dog has literally saved his life,” she says.

* name changed by request.
For more info, see: www.peanutdog.com

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