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I-Team: Service Dogs Failing To Protect Families

BOSTON (CBS) - For kids with severe food allergies, one misplaced crumb can be deadly. That is why service dogs that can warn children about these allergens are giving kids and their parents a new sense of security. But the I-Team has found several families who say their dogs are not doing anything to make them feel protected.

Christine Clifford and her husband paid $20,000 to buy Queenie, a dog that was supposed to warn her teenage sons of traces of peanuts. "I promised my kids. I promised them. Now you are going to be safe. You don't have to worry anymore," she said. But Christine was not able to keep that promise because she says the dog was never able to do her job. "She's never really alerted. Period. Ever," she said.

Queenie came from Angel Service Dogs based in Colorado Springs. It is a non-profit agency that promises to train dogs to sniff out allergens at schools, sporting events, or anywhere the owner goes. But according to Christine Clifford, Queenie just couldn't handle the crowds. "She's only been in school once and that was to visit the principal and she lunged at three different children," she said.

Christine had Queenie tested by animal behavior experts at the Tufts University Veterinary School. The dog was diagnosed with aggression to strangers and separation anxiety.

Richelle Anegli got her dog, Parker, from Angel Service Dogs at the same time as Christine. She said her dog also had aggression issues and was banned from her daughter's school after only a few days. "He lunged and bit a boy on the wrist," she said. Because Parker did alert Richelle's daughter to hidden allergens, the 5th grader was afraid to return to school without him. "She was afraid of everything because he told her it's everywhere."

Beth Caudle of Sacramento California was excited about getting her Angel Service dog to protect her son and daughter who are both highly allergic. The last time her son had a reaction the doctor told Beth that each episode was getting worse and with each reaction, she would have less time to get him to the hospital. She was desperate to get help for him.

When they got Frost, their first Angel Service Dog, he did not prove to be a reliable detector of allergens. But it was when he showed aggressive behavior toward her 7-year-old daughter that Beth brought him to animal behavior experts at the University of California. "They said this dog should never work as a service dog, she should not be around children and should not be in a home with children and that she has anxiety and aggression issues," she said. Angel Service Dogs sent her another dog, Charlie, but Beth claims he too has control issues and cannot reliably detect the allergens.

According to Kathlyn Ross, a former trainer for Angel Service Dogs, many of the animals were never properly assessed or given any sort of temperament testing. She said the organization sold dogs to families that were not able to do the job of detecting allergens. She even took video of Frost when he failed to find an allergen hidden inside a training wall. "I gave the clients the video because I thought maybe later on it would hem them figure out that they had been had," Ross said.

Angel Service Dogs founder Sherry Mers says she has dozens of families who say they are happy with their dogs and that the organization has placed nearly 70 dogs with families across the country. According to Mers, Frost is now working well for another family. She blames the three families for failing to keep up with required training exercises. "We give you a quality product," she said. "If you do the work to maintain that product, you will have success. If you don't, you won't."

Our sister station in Colorado caught up with a satisfied customer who believes her dog, General, has warned her of allergens a number of times. "It used to be I'd be in the hospital at least once a year," she said. "I haven't seen the inside of a hospital since I got him."

Christine hoped that she would have that same success, but instead she says she has an expensive pet that her family loves, but without the added security that she desperately wanted for her boys. "It was wonderful in that little window when I really thought, my kids are safe, and it was devastating," she said.

The total cost of an Angel Service Dog can be up to $20,000. The organization does help families organize fundraisers to help cover much, if not all of those costs.


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