Going to a restaurant or shopping for groceries is so much harder when you have to eat gluten free. I constantly ask questions to the wait staff to ensure a safe meal and I read every label every time I go shopping to make sure there is no gluten hiding in the ingredient lists. Gluten is everywhere and it is really hard to avoid. I have often wondered if there is some way to make life easier for those with celiac disease and other autoimmune disorders where a gluten free diet is essential.
During a recent trip to Florida, I met Rosie, a gluten detection service dog who does just that! Rosie is a service dog trained to sniff out gluten, a tiny protein found in wheat, barley, rye and oats--and she does a great job to protect her owner and trainer Jillian Skalky from eating something that could make her really sick. Rosie goes everywhere Skalky goes--to work, to the doctor, to the grocery store, to restaurants, and even to the beach!
We met Skalky and Rosie at Weezie's GF Kitchen, a dedicated gluten free restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, where we knew everything was safe to eat. Skalky still presented her plate to Rosie and commanded her to "check." Rosie sniffed the food and then sat, to indicate that the food was all clear and safe to eat. To put Rosie to the test, we took her outside and presented her with an assortment of snacks--some gluten free and some not. It was fascinating to watch her sniff a chocolate chip cookie that we knew was not safe. Rosie detected the scent of gluten through the sealed foil wrapper and bowed down to alert Skalky that the food wasn't safe. She repeated those actions on every food that we knew contained gluten. The last item Skalky asked Rosie to check was a package of Lance Gluten Free Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers that I had in my bag. She confirmed that those were indeed gluten free. I was excited to know that I had packed a safe snack in my carry-on bag! I assumed those would be gluten free, but Skalky told me to not always trust gluten free labeling. Not everything labeled gluten free actually is 100 percent gluten free. Rosie checks every item before Skalky puts it in her grocery cart. Skalky recalled how Rosie alerted that Cheerios which are labeled gluten free were not gluten free--both before and after the recall last year. She had Rosie check every variety on several occasions. Every single time she indicates that the popular breakfast cereal is not safe for her owner to eat.
Skalky, a professional dog trainer with Creating New Tails in Hollywood, Florida who specializes in assistance service dog and obedience training, didn't get Rosie with the intention of turning her into a service dog, but Rosie is very smart and was naturally a good candidate for that line of work. Skalky, who suffers with Crohn's disease and has undergone many surgeries which prevent her from a lot of bending, needed a service dog to detect gluten and assist with light mobility work and Rosie was up for the task! Rosie's full training took almost two years and she is very good at her job. In addition to gluten detection, Rosie assists Skalky with basic tasks like picking up dropped items, turning on light switches, and even helping with laundry. Skalky explained that training times vary from 90 days to two years based on the tasks they are being trained to master, and every dog is different.
The cost of service dogs greatly vary in price as well ranging from $2,000 to $20,000 depending on the breed of the dog. Skalky said if a person finds a great rescue dog like Rosie or already has a dog that is suited for service work, they could save a lot of money, but many rescue dogs have problems that prevent them from this line of work. There is a lot that goes into selecting and training the right dog.
As long as Rosie is wearing her service dog vest, she knows she is on duty and she takes her job seriously. But when the vest comes off, Rosie transforms into a normal, fun-loving pup who loves chasing squirrels, playing at the beach and showing off for people. It is obvious in the way Skalky interacts with Rosie that she is part of her family and she loves her very much, but she and Rosie both know she has an important job to do and she loves her job.
For more information, visit www.creatingnewtails.com.
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