Diagnosed at the age of eight months with neuroendocrine cell hyperplasia of infancy (NEHI) — a disease so rare only 500 U.S. cases are known — little Alida Knobloch became tethered to an oxygen tank for her survival. Now at 3 years old her parents Aaron and Debbie decided to help Alida by getting a service dog to carry her oxygen.
Service animals are more and more common but Alida’s goldendoodle, Mr. Gibbs, ( a Golden retriever/Poodle mix) required extra-special training, since his task was particularly challenging. Carrying two 3-pound oxygen tanks is not ordinary for a service dog. Alida’s age was an additional issue. Most trainers will not train an animal to work with a child under the age of 5-7.
Watching a video of the family on the Today show indicates why. As with most 3-year-olds, Alida’s speech is not that easily understood by a dog. Even so, Aaron decided to seek a service dog for her.
When doctors told the Knoblochs to move from Utah to a lower elevation they went to Georgia. As Alida started walking, her dad – who enjoys tinkering – created a walker for her to use to push the oxygen tanks. Toddlers like exploring and Alida is no different. Soon Aaron realized the walker would not be sufficient.
When they saw a television show about service dogs, Aaron says “that’s when it clicked.” They found a trainer, Ashleigh Kinsleigh, willing to work with them and Alida in teaching Mr. Gibbs his lessons. The family hopes by the time Alida enters kindergarten she and Mr. Gibbs will be a well-honed pair.
Doctors say there is a good chance Alida will outgrow her condition and not need continuous oxygen as she gets older. So, as he ages perhaps he will retire to a life of simply being a girl’s best friend…
For more information about NEHI and other pediatric lung diseases go to the chILD Foundation (Children’s Interstitial Lung Disease) website.
Photo of Mr. Gibbs with Alida screen shot from Today Show video