BYU student trains service dog to detect gluten

(Sydni Merrill)

Three million Americans have celiac disease, an autoimmune disorder where gluten damages the small intestine. 

Many with celiac disease go untreated, and gluten can be deadly when the disease is left undiagnosed. Katelyn Foster, BYU student and Colorado native, was diagnosed with celiac disease at eight years old. 

“I stopped growing in terms of height. I was incredibly skinny. It was my hair that had stopped growing when my mom really noticed. We quickly got a blood test which came back positive for celiac,” Foster said.

Foster is training her dog Darcy to detect gluten. Foster is personally training Darcy to become a service dog. 

“Darcy is seven months now, she’s still a puppy. … It was TikTok that I figured out that dogs could even detect gluten. And I was like that is so cool,” Foster said. 

For Darcy’s training, Foster gives a piece of food to Darcy to smell. If the food contains gluten, Darcy touches her nose to the food. If the food is gluten-free, Darcy lays down. 

Foster explained BYU largely accommodates for those with allergies.

“On campus specifically there is Chick-fil-A and Choices that will specifically label ‘we are gluten-free, we aren’t.’ For the most part, those two have been great but then other than I would say dining could do better,” Foster said. 

Emily Ormsby, a freshman from Utah, works in the Cougareat at Choices. Ormsby shared precautions are taken to avoid cross-contamination. Each restaurant has its own kitchen and gluten-free products that are always labeled.

“I like being able to provide food for people that have dietary restrictions. Because I feel like that would be a big pain,” Ormsby said.

Some restaurants in the Cougareat offer multiple gluten-free options, but places like Aloha Plate only have one gluten-free entrée.

Despite challenges that come with her allergy, Foster is thriving and knows Darcy’s help will increase her quality of life. 

“I love just having her trot around with me and people will also just say ‘Oh I love your dog.’ Especially at BYU, people are so sweet about it. It’s so cute,” Foster said.

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