Dogs with a nose for food danger protect at-risk kids

By Kathryn Powley

Trainer Merenia Donne and friend. Photo / NZ Herald
Trainer Merenia Donne and friend. Photo / NZ Herald

Clever canines able to sniff out minute traces of peanuts could soon be available to help New Zealand children with severe allergies.

The dogs would be trained in much the same way as drug-sniffing dogs used in airports.

Wanganui woman Merenia Donne, founder of Kotuku Foundation of Assistance Animals Aotearoa, has been training diabetes dogs and now plans to start training dogs for children at risk of anaphylactic shock if they come into contact with even tiny quantities of peanut.

Donne said the dogs were invaluable overseas.

In one American case, peanut-sniffing pooch LilyBelle was trained to raise a paw to warn her 7-year-old companion Meghan Weingarth if her food contained nuts.

LilyBelle and Meghan go together to school, birthday parties and on other outings.

The dog's skills and constant vigilance mean her mother, Jennifer, from Suwanee in Georgia, doesn't have to be with Meghan at all times.

She told Britain's Daily Mail: "Meghan is only seven, so she isn't always able to understand the risks herself but hopefully as LilyBelle and Meghan grow together that risk will get less and less."

Donne said training would start with teaching the dog to detect a jar of peanuts.

"You gradually get smaller and smaller until it is very small traces."

Fully training a dog would take about two years. It would behave in public, as guide dogs do, and give a "passive alert" peanut warning.

Allergy New Zealand chief executive Mark Dixon said the detecting dogs concept was brilliant.

"We know they've had significant experience with the concept in the UK and we'd be interested in exploring the credibility of it here."

- Herald on Sunday

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