I've mentioned my Service Dog and working dog love and admiration previously. I'm always fascinated and excited to read about more uses that are being found for the skill set that dogs so obviously possess.
My latest example is from an article in the Seattle Times, though there are a few other examples across the nation: Peanut Sniffing Dogs.
Peanut allergies seem to have gone ballistic in the past couple of years, both in number of individuals affected and in the severity of the allergy itself. When I was in school, I can't think of a single kid I knew who was allergic to peanuts in anyway. Now, there are kids going into anaphylactic shock and even sometimes dying from peanut exposure.
I won't begin to speculate on what has precipitated the allergy explosion. My focus of interest is, big surprise here, the use of dogs to mitigate environmental allergens. Much like with bomb sniffing dogs or narcotics sniffing dogs, peanut sniffing dogs are taught to alert to the presence of their focused item. PeanutDog.com is the site that "sourced" the dog, Remy, in the above linked article.
As the article describes, Remy (a dog rescued from "doggie death row", in fact, which makes this even neater), was first taught to "alert" to the presence of a peanut. Then to the area where the peanut had been. Then to peanut oil, peanut dust, etc. I've sometimes made the joke to Elka, when she continues licking the same Kong for hours, that she's simply licking the memory of peanut butter; clearly, this is not the case, and Elka's Kong would be deadly for a kid with peanut allergies. That's some unbelievably scary stuff, really.
Again, as with the Protection Dog, there is some sticker shock, but not nearly as much: Remy, the dog in the handy article, cost the family $10,000. Which is a big pile of money. However, is $10,000 too much to pay so that your kid can go to school? Visit a park? Play baseball (as Riley in Connecticut makes it possible for her boy to)? For parents whose children were essentially quarantined at home for a good chunk of their lives, that $10,000 price tag to not have to wonder "will today be the big one?" must have been a solid lifeline. The news articles I've seen have talked about these children's worlds opening up once the dog was beside each of them.
Peanut sniffing dogs save lives. I'm sure there are other allergen sniffing dogs, or at least their ought to be. People with Celiac's Disease, for instance, could benefit greatly from having a Gluten Sniffing Dog, though at least Celiac's isn't anaphylactic. The amount of food allergies out there are likely too numerous to even try listing here, but suffice to say the niche is there. A dog's sense of smell can be thousands of times better than a human's; I'm glad people are putting those sniffers to good use!