What difference does a nose make?

We brought Tracy home in June after spending two weeks in Colorado Springs learning how to work with her.  Bringing home a service dog is in some ways similar to bringing home a new infant.  Everyone’s excited, overjoyed.  Tracy was a long-awaited and prayed-for new member of our family.  We had to adjust our routines to incorporate Tracy’s needs. Benjamin had to learn to embrace a new level of responsibility. We all needed to learn about each other.   It was an important time for all of us.   As can happen in transition times, not everything went smoothly at first.  Tracy immediately began to experience some health issues.   Her transition away from Colorado was more difficult for her because she didn’t feel good.  Happily, she is well now and fully embracing her new home.  She is obviously deeply devoted to her new boy.

Even from early on, though, the answer for our family is:  Yes, her nose makes a difference.  Tracy’s ability to search out trace amounts of allergens makes a difference for our son.  As soon as we brought Tracy home, we went on a family vacation to Yellowstone National Park.  This is the kind of vacation that takes careful planning on our part because of the great distances from medical facilities in remote areas, limited access to safe food,  and heavy dependence on nut products for summer snacking.

To make it work, we rented a cabin with a kitchen and planned to cook from scratch. We always carry a number of epi pens with us in the event of an emergency.  We located places where we could purchase fresh ingredients.

When we pulled up to the cabin in West Yellowstone, my mother waved us back and announced that there were peanuts strewn all over the front porch. (The owner knew of the allergy and had cleaned the inside, but the previous guests must have eaten nuts on the porch just before they left.)  Tracy had been with us 7 days.  Mom and I worked to clean up the porch. When we were done Joel asked Tracy to search the porch. She alerted to the door knob, door mat, and an arm of the chair. I cleaned those areas again. Joel asked her to check the area again. She cleared the door knob and the mat. She alerted again at the chair. As I got down to clean again, I noticed two small peanuts that were under the chair between the wall and cement.  I cleaned those up, wiped it down a third time, and asked Tracy to search it again. She cleared it.  Joel walked her through the house, and she never alerted to anything in the house.

Benjamin sat on the front porch often during that entire week, and never once had even a small reaction.  That might not sound like much, but to us it was amazing.  Tracy’s collar says, “I save Benjamin’s life.”  Did she save his life? I don’t honestly know if that can be measured.  Anaphylaxis works in wily, hard-to-predict ways. That, of course , is why it can be so scary. In one situation it is upon fast and furious. And in another similar situation it isn’t.  What I can say for sure, though, is that my son was relaxed, having fun, and not worried.  He never even had a small reaction. Nothing. That, I can say, was a first for him.

We are extremely grateful to Kathlyn Ross, Tracy’s trainer, for the time and care she poured into Tracy. We are grateful to Tracy’s puppy raisers for the loving environments they provided for Tracy as a puppy.  Her nose makes a difference for our family, for our son. We are grateful.

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