COLORADO SPRINGS — Six-year-old Noah Kirby has to be extra cautious with his hands.
“I have to wash them right away and I can’t touch anything,” Noah said.
After being diagnosed with celiac disease at three years old, the Kirby family went completely gluten-free.
“You actually have to replace almost your entire kitchen because plastic, silicone, cast iron, all of those kitchen items are porous, so they hold on to gluten. So, it becomes a very expensive switch to make,” said Audra Kirby, Noah’s mom.
Gluten can also be found outside of the kitchen.
“[Like] touching a shopping cart or door handle, a drinking fountain that somebody else has been eating crackers with.” said James Kirby, Noah’s dad.
“Gluten-free” has become a popular health trend, but celiac disease is different and can be very serious.
Noah’s parents say even trace amounts of gluten can make him terribly sick for two weeks.
“He had stomach aches, he had terrible behavior issues. And he was getting some rashes,” Audra said.
That’s why his parents take every precaution.
“So, we keep a handwashing kit in our car and truck that we have to use after every outing. So, every time we return to the vehicle after an outing, we spray his hands down with soap and water and a paper towel, to try to make sure we remove any trace or amounts of gluten that may have gotten on his hands,” James said.
They’re hoping by later this year, this will be a step they can skip, with the help of an allergen detection dog.
“This is like their personal bomb. When they walk into a room, nobody else might be affected by them, but it might hit them really hard,” said Ciara Gavin, founder of Allergen Detection Service Dogs.
Gavin has been working with the Kirby family to find Noah the perfect partner.
And Noah already has big plans for his new best friend.
“His name is going to be Duke,” Noah said.
The dog Gavin will eventually work with will be able to check for traces of gluten on any item Noah might use.
“The dog is going to be trained to check certain items one at a time. Whether it’s his chair or his table. The dog is not going to search everywhere and tell him everywhere gluten is because that’s everywhere,” Gavin said.
“And he’s going to have to check money, like paper dollars. Every time I touch them you can’t get the gluten off if it’s made out of paper, so every time I touch them I have to wash my hands,” Noah said.
His mother says an allergen detection service dog will also allow Noah to go back to public school.
“We had a very difficult time when he was in part-time preschool and we ended up pulling him out of school, we are homeschooling now. Because it is just very difficult to keep him safe in a school setting when kids are eating goldfish crackers, and pretzels and crumbs are everywhere,” Audra said.
Training for a service dog takes time and the cost for a fully trained service dog can run around $25,000.
“We’re asking a dog to do something well outside of their comfort zone. Something that they are just not inherently great at. And it takes a lot of training and repetition to get them to the point where they’re reliable when smelling is easy, but telling us what they smelled is hard,” Gavin said.
The client also has to be trained, which costs another few grand.
But Noah has already been practicing with the family dog, Titan.
A true service dog though would allow the Kirby family to live more of a normal life.
“A lot of the restaurants and things are not truly gluten-free when it comes to celiac requirements. There’s a lot of cross-contamination, shared ovens, shared workspaces, not changing gloves, utensils that may have been touching gluten previously,” said James.
Travel has also been challenging.
“Airport restaurants and food are not safe. Trying to stay at hotel rooms and eat out has really restricted our ability to go ahead and take vacations as a family. And we’re really hoping Duke can open those doors again for us,” James added.
Noah just wants to be comfortable.
“You can’t see gluten. It’s everywhere and you can’t see it, but our dog can smell it,” Noah said.