What a difference a year can make! June 30, one year ago to this day, I was in a very different situation than I am now. Everyone knows that saying, “things happen for a reason.” A part of me feels like most people say this quote as a comfort mechanism when bad things happen but I have a story where this truly happened. Something that I thought was so terrible, did happen for a reason and I am thankful to be able to realize it.

I have a life threatening allergy to dairy.  A few years ago I was really struggling. I have had multiple anaphylactic reactions that landed me in the ER. Most of my reactions were because of mistakes made by restaurants, so going out for dinner had come to a screeching halt. I was having a lot of anxiety about food. Even food that I had eaten safely my entire life scared me. I began to doubt myself when reading labels. Even though I could read the ingredients in plain English and I saw with my own eyes that there was no dairy in the food I was about to eat, I was still scared. The icing on the cake was when I was in a situation where a kid that I barely knew thought it would be a “great idea” to throw food at me. To most reading this, I know you are thinking “who cares, just throw food back at him” but in my case he knew how allergic I am to the food he was throwing and he acted like it was one big joke. I was in a bad place when it came to my food allergy.

Something had to be done. My mom came across an article about food allergy service dogs. It’s pretty simple, dogs have an incredible sense of smell. They can be trained to find many things. An example is a police canine who is trained to find drugs or bombs using their sense of smell. Dogs can also be trained to find a specific food allergen. After doing LOTS of research, we found an amazing company across the country who trains these types of dogs. When we spoke to the trainer we were told right away that the training is a lengthy process and it is quite expensive. We were also told that despite how smart or trained a dog can be, there are still many factors that can go wrong and the dog can be disqualified as a service dog at any point. That is the main reason why all training is done before we even meet the dog to avoid any attachment just in case it didn’t work out. As a family, we decided that it was worth it and we would find a way to make it happen and we did!

After 2 years, my dog was trained and I was ready to meet her and start my training on how to be a service dog handler. Initially, we were set to fly across the country to start the process and bring my dog home but COVID ruined those plans and we were delayed even longer. As flying began to get a bit better, the trainer agreed to fly to us and begin the training at my house. It was so exciting and I had waited for what felt like an eternity to meet my dog. 

What I haven’t mentioned yet is during those 2 years of waiting, things started to get better for me when it came to my food allergy. I hadn’t had any major reactions, restaurants were now closed because of COVID which gave me the opportunity to really learn how to cook for myself and I realized that I love to cook! I began to practice more and more with new ingredients and I became more confident about eating food. What I also didn’t mention yet is that incident that happened with bullying, taught me how to advocate for myself and in turn, I became a stronger, more confident person. 

Fast forward to June 30 2020, the big day! My dog was finally here! All training had gone extremely well and the most remarkable dog walked through my door. My “safety blanket” was here and I was so excited! All was well except for one problem. Despite the dog being 100% socialized and as part of the training, had been put in many situations with many types of people and animals and passed with flying colors, the service dog and our family dog did not like each other. I’m not talking about a few growls here and there, I’m talking about full on dog fights. To make a long story short. The service dog was disqualified and after only a short 18 hours, the dog was back on the plane and my journey of having a service dog was over. I was devastated. I thought about all the waiting and all the excitement and I really believed this dog would be the answer to helping with my food anxiety. I had more faith in a dog than I did in myself. After the initial shock was over, life went on. During this last year, I was lucky enough to be in school full time and did not have to do any zoom classes. My last year of middle school was so much fun. I am so excited to start high school. I can already tell how much I am going to love it. Something else happened this past year. I began to explore writing more. I began using social media as a platform for helping myself and more importantly helping others who have food allergies. I have met many new friends from all over the country and all over the world who have had the same experiences with food allergies as I have. I was also given the opportunity to write for this amazing blog The Daily Feels with so many amazing bloggers and I get to share all of my stories with others.

What a difference a year makes. As I look back at where I was a year ago, so sad that it didn’t work out with my service dog and questioning how this could happen to me, I now see the reason why. Although service dogs are amazing and they do amazing work for people who need them, I now know in my heart that it wasn’t meant to be for me. I needed to go through all my struggles to learn how to be a stronger person. Most of all, I learned that everything happened exactly the way it should have and I am so thankful for that.

Shae Averaimo is a 14-year-old living in Connecticut with her parents, her sister who is 17 months younger than her (just saying), and her adorable golden retriever, Oakley. She lives in a beautiful coastal town and spends most of her summers at the beach and swimming in the ocean. She is an 8th grader who loves science, acting, art, and cooking. Her favorite foods are eggplant parmesan (minus the parmesan) and pasta fagiole (her dad’s recipe is amazing!). When she is not spending time with her family, she can be found riding her bike in her neighborhood, hanging out with her friends, and learning the latest TikTok dances with her sister. She has a life-threatening allergy to dairy and is very involved in the food allergy community. She has a website and an Instagram account dedicated to food allergy awareness. She especially loves taste-testing new dairy-free and allergy-friendly snacks and she reviews them on her Instagram. She is very excited to be joining The Daily Feels and she can’t wait to share her stories. Check out her website nowheyshae.com and follow her on Instagram @shaeallergy_07

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