Eight-year-old Riley Mers and her Portuguese Water Dog Rock’O seem just like an ordinary little girl and her pet but they are so much more. “It might look to yo like it’s a kid playing with a dog,” says Riley’s mother, Sherry, “but to me that’s a dog that’s saving my daughter’s life while they’re playing.”
Riley has a peanut allergy so severe that any contact with peanuts or peanut residue can send the little Monument, CO girl to the hospital. If she should eat something with peanuts in it, she would only have about six minutes to get to a hospital for treatment before her body would go into shock. “Her case is about as bad as they come,” said Dr. Daniel Soteres, a Colorado Springs Allergy and Immunology Specialist. "An exposure to peanuts could be a life-threatening event to her.”
That’s were Rock’O comes in. The PWD is one of only a few dogs in the country that are trained to detect the presence of peanuts and protect their owners from allergic reactions to them. “Training a peanut allergy dog to sniff out peanuts is much like training a dog to do narcotics or bomb sniffing," said Tina Rivero, head trainer of Angel Service Dogs in Monument. "It's just a different scent that they are hitting on. Instead of the marijuana or the cocaine or the bomb, they are actually finding the peanut."
Rock’O has such an acute sense of smell that he can protect Riley each and every day. “I can actually go to the mall. I can actually go to bowling alleys,” says Riley. “I’m wanting to go to college, and I’m going to be able to.”
Night and day, the talented canine accompanies her everywhere, even in the classroom. He is able to check items to insure they peanut residue free. This brings some relief to her mother. “This isn’t just freedom for today, this is her first date without her mom,” sighs Sherry. “This is her getting to do things on her own without us constantly being in her shadow." Until now, her allergies have held her back, but now, thanks to Rock’O, she has her freedom and she is now “off her leash.”