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Service dog helps sniff out gluten for 6-year-old diagnosed with Celiac Disease

A Gresham boy with Celiac Disease is getting help from man's best friend in a unique way.

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Haley Rush
GRESHAM, OR — A Gresham boy with Celiac Disease is getting help from man's best friend in a unique way.

One peek inside the Hardesty's Gresham home and it won't take long to realize their dog, Hawkeye, truly is man's best friend. Or in this case, boy's best friend.

Six-year-old Toby and two-year-old Hawkeye do everything together. They also go everywhere together.

"Hawkeye sit," Toby said. "Good boy."

But once out the door, Hawkeye quickly goes from friend to protector. That's because Toby has Celiac Disease. It's an autoimmune response to gluten.

"Like if he were to bite into a cookie or a bite of a sandwich, something like that, he would have flu-like symptoms that would last for a week or two, " Toby's mom, Amy Hardesty said. "He'd get fatigued, his belly gets swollen, he gets headaches, but then on top of all that, he gets what's called gluten ataxia, which is the whole right side of his body shuts down like he's had a stroke."

Amy said it took years just for Toby to get a correct diagnosis by a doctor.

"He's been through so much in such a short amount of time," Amy said.

She said it took years more to get it under control.

"We found very quickly making peanut butter sandwiches and using the same knife in and out of the jar and putting it on Toby's sandwich was making him sick so it was just scary," she said. "Once we learned what to avoid and how to care for him, it was super daunting for a while and we got it under control and we were like 'Yes! We got it! We know how to do this!' and then we had to start thinking about school and that so many external factors play into it."

That's where Hawkeye comes back in.

"We just realized we need some extra support," Amy said. "It's not fair to send him to school and expect everyone else to know how to take care of him and it's also not fair to put that responsibility on a six-year-old, because he's six so we started looking for service dogs."

Amy said the community immediately surrounded them, helping to raise the $16,000 dollars for the specialized train service dog. Hawkeye is trained to sniff out gluten before Toby even touches is.

"Initially that sounds like a lot of money, but when you think about it trainers are often training only one to two dogs at a time and our trainer, she only trained one dog at a time and it took a year," Amy said.

Since getting Hawkeye, Amy said the change in Toby is undeniable.

"We've really seen just growth and development in him because he's not getting sick as often and he's now able to learn more," she said. "So he can now say his alphabet, learn his numbers and colors, things that just a year ago he wasn't doing."

"She's a life-giver," Amy continued. "Yeah, she's breathed life and confidence into Toby that we haven't seen in a really long time."

"I do love Hawkeye," Toby said.

Amy said she hopes by middle school, Toby can attend without Hawkeye. She said the plan is then for him to use her only as needed.

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