I remember the day I found out my little one was allergic to dogs. Before she could walk we used to take trips together with her exploring the world from her stroller. I would load her up with some healthy finger foods, some sunscreen, a juice box, and we would hit the streets. I would point out and tell her what everything was and she would mimic the words I was saying to her. I would ask her if she saw the squirrel that ran across the road and she would smile, clap her hands and do her best to say “squirrel” as she squealed in delight.
Occasionally we would run into other morning walkers and sometimes those walkers were accompanied by their canine companions. “Dahh ” she would say and point. “Very good, that’s a dog” I would reply. “Do you want to say hi to the dog?” I would ask her almost rhetorically. The little puppy was very happy with this idea. He wagged his tail, and kissed her fingers and my daughter smiled from ear to ear. We said goodbye to the dog and continued on our walk. A few moments later I noticed her skin was covered in welts and hives. It was like she had been attacked by a horde of mosquitoes. I turned the stroller around and pushed her back home as fast as I could. At the time I had no idea what the reaction was from, but a quick bath was able to down the reaction. It’s suddenly dawned on me, she must be allergic to dogs.
My wife and I figured that it was just a child allergy, and many people assured us that she would probably grow out of it. Every so often she would see a dog and ask if she could pet it. “I must have grown out of it by now” she would say as the years passed. She would try her luck again, Dad with the hydrocortisone cream on standby, as the familiar reaction showed its face once again. I hated seeing her be so upset about it. There are few joys in the world like playing with a puppy and she may never really get to experience it fully.
The point of this is to share that allergies like this exist. Many times we have gone on family walks where a dog owner with their dogs unleashed (against the law in many areas) would assure us that the “dog is friendly” as it ran up to my daughter. You can imagine how frustrating this is as I have to stop the dog from reaching my daughter, while simultaneously educating the dog owner that if my daughter gets licked in the wrong place she could go into a panic and have a potentially life threatening reaction. I have seen her eyes swell almost closed, and shudder to think what a dog hair getting down her throat might bring.
Worse yet are our play dates. As if making friends isn’t hard enough, we have to quiz each parent if they have dogs in their home. Many people do not realize the severity of a dog allergy and assume we are being overprotective, or that she is just scared of dogs. We have got to the point where we have to explain that if the dogs can reach our daughter then she cannot come over to play. It doesn’t matter if they are good dogs, friendly, big or small. Her allergy is severe and her fear is legitimate when her allergy is not taken seriously. I understand it is pretty uncommon, so many people don’t understand how to deal with it. It has even been to the point where other children’s parents are concerned why we won’t let our daughter come over. It isn’t because we don’t want them under the care of another parent, it is because there is no safe barrier between my daughter and their family pets.
Consider this if you allow your dog to run up to strangers, you might not see the moments of terror in my daughters eyes, hoping that the dog she sees ahead of us doesn’t come near her and start a painful physical reaction. She spots dogs from a mile away to see if they are on a leash, and immediately clings to me, making me promise I will protect her. Her allergy is not only physically uncomfortable but emotionally troubling for her as well. It causes a histamine reaction that makes her breathing shallow in addition to being hurried from the anxiousness and panic.
If a parent asks that perhaps you keep your dogs outside while their child comes over, please respect that if that is a possibility for you. Not everyone is a dog person, some for very good reason. Nothing is more troubling then finishing a conversation with a parent about your child’s severe animal allergy, and watching their dogs slip through a crack in the door and chase your child around a driveway. No matter how sweet the dogs are they will pick up on my child’s fear and terrorize her for a few moments as she prays the hives don’t start showing up on her body and she is rushed home to a bath.
As you can imagine this is crushing for a young child. Not only is she isolated from sweet puppy dogs, but occasionally from friends as well. To combat this we try and invite friends over as much as possible and each time reiterate to the parents that we wish she could come play, but her allergy is too severe. Sometimes even a dog hair on her playmate’s clothing can cause a reaction and that is a definite bummer.
As for us, we are just waiting for the day she “grows out of it.”