The first day of kindergarten is a milestone that many families take for granted, but for 5 year-old Aeverie Labile and her family it is a bittersweet moment they’ve been denied.
Aeverie is severely allergic, reacting to an array of foods, including peanuts, but also pollen, latex and penicillin. The result is anaphylaxis, which causes a swelling of the throat, constricting the airways and a drop in blood pressure. Last year a kiss on the forehead from a cousin, who must have eaten something Aeverie was allergic to, sent her into an anaphylactic shock that necessitated a six-day hospital stay.
And yet her family had hoped she would be able to start school this year. Aeverie’s pediatrician, Dr. Ashraf Fahim, had prepared a list of conditions necessary to accommodate the would-be kindergartener, but her local Aliso Viejo school could not meet her needs. Instead they sent a teacher to the Labile’s home.
Food allergies among children are up 50 percent in the last 14 years, says a 2013 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And kids like Aeverie, who also suffer from asthma, have an even greater risk for fatal food allergy reactions.
Despite the school disappointment, Mrs. Labile remains determined to find a way to help her daughter live a more normal life and thinks a four-legged addition to the family may be a solution.
She learned of a detection dog through her friend, Kim Hollinger, who she met at a support group, No Nuts Moms Group of Orange County. Hollinger’s 18 year-old daughter uses a scent-detecting dog trained at Falco K9 Academy in Yorba Linda. In addition to detecting scents, they offer emotional support to kids, like Aeverie, who suffers from stress and anxiety due to their condition. Trainer Andy Falco typically works with a dog for an hour a day for up to 10 weeks.
To underwrite the $15,000 cost of a trained service dog, Labile hosted a painting party in August at Ocean Avenue Brewery in Laguna Beach, managed by her husband, Gianni.
Guests Diane Davani and Erin Bactat volunteered to help with the cause. Bactat has two daughters who also suffer from allergies. They encouraged Labile to start a GoFundMe page and set about building local support. Aliso Viejo Council member Ross Chun declared Aeverie, “Aliso Viejo’s Sweetheart.”
With the help of six other women, Davani and Bactat plan another fund raiser at the grand opening of JimBoy’s Tacos, 27882 Aliso Creek Road, from 12-7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 10. Proceeds from a silent auction and 25 percent of taco sales will go toward a dog for Aeverie.
The timing of what Labile calls “these amazing women in our community” couldn’t be better. Falco is working with a few candidates right now, one of which he believes could be the right dog for Aeverie.
The training for allergy-sniffing dogs is the same as that for police dogs and those deployed by the military to find explosives. “They can detect anything that has an odor,” says Falco.
Scientists at Auburn University have measured a dog’s ability to sniff odor in parts per billion. Allergy alert dogs are able to detect peanuts in food, whether raw or cooked, or even if peanut oil was used in a recipe. The same training can be applied to many scents including the most common allergens like shellfish, dairy products and eggs.
Although the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 should help people avoid the health risks posed by food allergens, families like Aeverie’s must be constantly vigilant. Some kids are so allergic that just the smell of peanuts can trigger a reaction.
Update: Gianni Labile says $8,000 was raised as a result of the two fundraisers, half the cost of dog training but enough for a downpayment. He says the family hopes to arrange a payment plan for the remainder.