By David Fleet
Like most 10-year-olds—Lizzy Martin would enjoy a strawberry Twizzler, cotton candy or even the crunch of a Dorito.
While Lizzy likes the treats—chances are they don’t like her.
While the treats are fine—a a common additive Red Dye 40 is not.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration includes Red Dye 40 on a list of food additives that are generally recognized as safe. Red Dye 40 is an ingredient in many foods with a strawberry, cherry, berry or even orange flavor: fruit snacks, yogurt, breakfast cereals, jams and jellies, candy and even cereal bars and toaster tarts to name a few.
“At six months Lizzy had a reaction to the ink on diapers,” said Cyndy Smith, the mother of Lizzy. “When she was little she ate pink cotton candy and her face turned red—we thought it was the color coming off from the candy, but it was the start of a bad rash caused by Red Dye 40.”
After testing, Lizzy was diagnosed with the unique allergy at age 4.
“Her lips get itchy, eyes swell and she had breathing issues—she complained her tongue got puffy too,” recalls Smith. “She would get hives too. However if the product was organic Lizzy was just fine.”
The battle with dye allergies went on for several years, she said.
“Preschool was fine,” said Smith. “But elementary school was another story for Lizzy— we had more products in the classroom that contained Red Dye 40—like dry erasers. I felt like a detective determining where Red Dye 40 was in the classroom. All I wanted to do was keep my child alive.”
Since the Red Dye 40 was in so many products it was difficult to avoid, especially for an active child. So, to rectify the problem Smith sought the assistance of an allergy dog.
“I felt overwhelmed,” she said. “Many of the allergy service dogs do items like peanuts, but they did not do Red Dye 40.”A chemist determined that Red Dye 40 has an odor and Smith obtained some product for dog training.
“It was less expensive to train on our own dog,” she said. “Insurance did not help with the training costs or the dog. It’s a very expensive to get a dog.”
So, Smith purchased a miniature Australian shepherd—named Chloe and the training process took about a year.
“If you are cooking stew at home a human smell stew,” she said. “But for a dog like Chloe they smell, carrots, beef, onions—all the ingredients of stew.”
Lizzy started taking Chloe to Oakwood Elementary school when she was in the third grade and the results have been excellent.
“The year prior to taking her dog to school she had 28 minor allergic reactions at school which required four emergency room visit and nine rounds of steroids,” said Smith. “Since then she has only had 1 emergency room visit. The Brandon School District has been great.”
Chloe stays under her desk and will alert to Red Dye 40 by raising her paw and touching Lizzy.
“It’s not a huge distraction to other students,” said Lizzy. “Kids get use to her, they don’t touch or play with her. Chloe will alert as much as twice a day.”
By David Fleet