There are approximately 3 million Americans living with celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes people to be intolerant of gluten—a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. The disease doens’t effect people the same. For some, it effects the digestive system (particularly the small intestines) while for others, they may feel pain in other parts of the body.
13-year-old Evelyn Lapadat, is one such individual. Being hyper-sensitive to gluten, even the tiniest speck of gluten will result in immediate joint pain, stiffness, and fatigue all over her body. To combat this, she has had to drastically alter her diet, however her sensitivity to gluten renders it nearly impossible.
“If someone puts a crouton on a salad in the back at a restaurant and takes if off and says, 'Oops, this needs to be gluten-free,' and brings Evelyn her salad, previously, she would say, 'Looks good to me,' eat it, be sick for three days," her mom, Wendy, reported to Today. But all thanks to Zeus, an Australian shepherd dog, that rarely happens now. Zeus is Evelyn's gluten-sniffing dog. He’s always by her side, checking her hands and sniffing her food. If is super-sniffer ever detects a whiff of gluten, he’ll raise his paw, as if to stay ‘stop.’ But if he turns his head, the item is safe to eat.
“I haven't gotten sick in a really long time and it's like a really big relief,” Evelyn said. “I feel like I don't have to be a complete control freak anymore. I feel like he can be a control freak for us,” her mom added.
Although Ciara Gavin wasn’t the one who trained Zeus, she trains dogs just like him how to sniff out gluten. Gavin demonstrates what it takes to be a gluten-sniffing dog with her newest trainee, Maggie. In one exercise, Maggie had to determine which had had gluten powder on it. Whenever Maggie sniffed out the gluten, she got a treat.
"It's not a way to make life easier. It's just a way to make life a little bit safer,” Gavin said. “This is a last line of defense, not a first line of defense."
Having Zeus around has been life-changing for Evelyn. Her inflammation problems have practically vanished. Her doctor says a gluten-sniffing dog is unusual, but it's exciting to think about the potential. Experts warn there are no national guidelines for training gluten-detecting dogs, so families should do their research and closely examine the companies and their standards.