Treatment Guide

Allergen Detection Service Dogs…Until There’s a Cure! Interview with Ciara Gavin

Allergen Detection Service DogsI was recently connected with Ciara Gavin of Allergen Detection Service Dogs in a joint effort to work together to increase Food Allergy Awareness by holding a conference in Colorado Springs.  While that whole idea is still in the works, I was immediately intrigued by the work being done by Ciara and her team.  I needed to know more!  Lucky for me, she agreed to come to Denver and meet over lunch to discuss the work we both do.  I am honored to share with all of you the amazing services being provided through Allergen Detection Service Dogs!

allergen detection service dogs

First, I have to say that I was lucky enough to meet one of these amazing dogs named Tucker, who is actually a mobility dog, and has a unique set of skills outside of allergen detection.  However, he was in the restaurant with us and was well received, well behaved, and an all around incredible animal.  I was hooked from that moment.

Ciara’s Story

“When I went to college, I went to UT, in Austin, which is right next to the school for the Def and Blind and there would always be guide dogs on the bus. Then I went through classes on learning theory and behavior, and learned how to get dogs to learn, which was a total change in my cognitive process.  It takes a lot of work.”

“Animals have always been a therapeutic outlet for me.  The world steps aside when I’m working with an animal.  I started off riding horses.  You have to be really in the moment, you can’t be thinking about what your doing tomorrow or the problems you had earlier in the day.  You have to just be there, and just right there.  It’s the same process with dogs.”

Allergen detection service dogs

Standing Watch for Allergens

“After graduating from college, I started working with an animal trainer who worked with dogs, horses, and everything, I just sort of shadowed her for awhile.  After September 11th, I decided I wanted to join the military and train canine’s who detect bombs.  So I went for it, even though everyone said I was crazy for enlisting with a degree, with no guarantee that I would actually get to work with dogs.  They said I had to start out as a cop and do other things too, and I said, ‘Show me the way!’”

“I got there, and it was wonderful.  It was the best job in the entire world.  I got stationed at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and worked bomb dogs and drug dogs while I was there.  I got to do some really cool things while I was there though, like go on Secret Service Missions, go in front of dignitaries, and I really felt like I was helping the world with these dogs.  It was so cool, and I just loved it.”

“But as a military dog handler, you deploy about six months a year, every year.  I had my first child in 2004 and my second in 2006, and I decided I couldn’t leave my babies home six months at a time every year.  So, I decided to get out, and didn’t know what I was going to do.  I went back to school, worked on some criminal justice stuff, but didn’t really have a purpose.”

“About 8 months out, a guy I worked with in the Military called and said he had a call for this ‘crazy’ use for dogs who were detecting allergens! He said they didn’t know exactly what they were going to do yet, but had a couple of dogs lined up and asked if I wanted to help, and I said sure. We started the program through Angel Service dogs, and the more we trained the dogs, the more families we met, and the more I saw the impact these dogs had on families, I was hooked!  It wasn’t like saving a whole group of people at once, but it was one-on-one. I realized making a  difference one at time makes such a difference to each family we helped, and that really mattered!”

Thank you Ciara and your team for your hard work and dedication to the Food Allergy Community!  We are truly blessed to have you out there.

About Allergen Detection Service Dogs

Allergen detection service dogs

No Peanut Butter on the Jungle Gym

Since the program originally started, it has branched out from Angel Service Dogs and has become it’s own program, now called Allergen Detection Service Dogs.  According to the welcome packet, the trainers from ADSD have trained 17 of the 30-50 allergen detection dog in the country!

Allergen Detection Service Dogs trains qualified dogs to sniff out specific allergens for people who have contact and/or airborne anaphylaxis to things like peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, etc.  These dogs are specially chosen and trained and then appropriately matched to their individual or family.   The two week training course includes the entire family. Adults and children over the age of 13 are trained in detection, dog handling skills, and attend an intensive allergy education conference.  Chilrden under age 12 can take part in the KIDS camp (Know the Information; Develop Solutions), which addresses living life with anaphylaxis in a way that is fun and safe.  Click  here for FAQ’s.

With an allergen detection dog, an individual can gain the ability to be safe in the world, often doing things they’ve never been able to do before.  For example, a dog can make sure playground equipment is free of peanuts so the child can play freely and the parents can relax and just enjoy watching their child have fun without fear.  It makes navigating the world easier, more convenient, less stressful, less fearful, returning joy and ease to a family who may have gone without for years.  Not to mention, the family gets a wonderful furry addition!

Of course, these dogs may not be the right answer for every family.  If the child or allergic individual is also highly allergic to dogs, this may not be an option.  Or if your lifestyle and home environment is not conducive to a pet, that should also be considered, since they do require commitment, training and consistency.  However, Allergen Detection Service Dogs commits to providing ongoing support and training for those who receive an allergen dog, giving their recipients the confidence to proceed with a life changing animal!

For more information on services provided from Allergen Detection Service Dogs, or to submit an application for a dog of your own, please visit the website, at


Author Information: Jennifer Slack, Denver, CO
Denver Gluten-free Examiner at
Jennifer is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and an expert on changing negative emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. After being diagnosed with Celiac Disease last October, she learned there was more to transforming her life around food beyond knowing what to eat and what not to eat. There were unexpected social, emotional, and behavioral challenges that arose. Since learning how to cope with these obstacles herself, she has begun teaching others how to cope effectively with the barriers that interfere with successfully changing one’s entire lifestyle around food. You can reach Jennifer at her e-mail address


About Jennifer Slack


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