Girl's best friend is dog who carries her oxygen


Two years ago Aaron and Debbie Knobloch learned that their baby daughter Alida was suffering from a rare lung disease and that she would need a portable oxygen tank to help her breathe. The good news was that the oxygen tank would make their little girl healthy. The bad news was that she’d have to be tethered to the 6-pound tank most of the time.

The Knoblochs struggled to find a way to give Alida a normal life. Aaron built a walker with a pocket for the oxygen tank so she wouldn’t always have to be tied to one of her parents. But as the little girl grew older – and more mobile – the walker wasn’t enough.

When Aaron saw a TV program about service dogs, he knew he had the answer: with a dog carrying her oxygen tank, little Alida would be free to roam and play with other kids. Enter Mr. Gibbs, a golden doodle trained to be Alida’s constant companion, ever at her side whether it’s scampering down the slide at the playground or trotting alongside as she rides her bike.

Though she was a little premature, Alida initially seemed healthy. But by the time she was 6 months old, the little girl started having breathing problems. Sometimes her heart would start racing for no apparent reason. Other times she seemed to be breathing too fast. Then one day she turned blue and the Knoblochs rushed her to the hospital. Though she was quickly stabilized, doctors couldn't explain what was happening to Alida.

Alida Knobloch, 3, cuddles with her service dog Mr. Gibbs, a golden doodle who carries her oxygen tank everywhere.

Aaron and Debbie went from doctor to doctor searching for answers. The relief was palpable when a specialist finally figured out what was wrong:  8-month-old Alida was suffering from a rare lung condition called neuroendocrine cell hyperplasia of infancy, or NEHI, that made it hard for her body to get enough oxygen from the air she breathed.

The condition was discovered just seven years ago, and there have only been 500 confirmed cases, according to the Children’s Interstitial and Diffuse Lung Disease Foundation (chILD).

So far, nobody has figured out exactly what causes the children’s labored breathing, says NEHI specialist Dr. Megan Dishop, a pediatric pathologist at the Children’s Hospital Colorado and an associate professor of pathology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Researchers just know that there is an overabundance of neuroendocrine cells in children with NEHI. It’s possible that when there are too many of these cells, there’s a breakdown in communication in the airways, resulting in too little oxygen getting into the bloodstream, Dishop says.

While the Knoblochs were happy they finally had a diagnosis, they quickly recognized that it would change their lives.

“After we were told how rare it was and that there wasn't a lot of information available there were about a million more questions,” Aaron told “How does she get her oxygen? How do we make sure she is getting enough? Where to do we get it from? Will she be able to play with other kids? How is a baby going to grow up having to be tied to an oxygen bottle? Will she ever be able to play sports, or just go play outside? And that was just the first second.”

Getting oxygen was the easy part, it turned out. With the help of a small portable oxygen tank, Alida was able to return to good health. The tough part for the Knoblochs was figuring out how they could give their little girl a normal life – until they found Mr. Gibbs.

The dog was living with Ashleigh Kinsleigh, who trains service dogs near the Knobloch's home in Loganville, Ga. The puppy had finished up his initial obedience training when the Knoblochs came for their first visit.


Mr. Gibbs is learning to keep up with Alida everywhere she goes, including up and down the slide on the playground.

Alida hit it off with the shaggy puppy right away.

“They weren’t sure they wanted to go with a golden doodle,” Kinsleigh told “But she went crazy for him.”

So Kinsleigh began the specialized training a dog would need to take care of an especially young charge.

“He had to learn to get under the table at restaurants,” she says. “He had to learn that if there were other animals he couldn’t just go and play with them. He had to stay right next to his girl and ignore all the fun things around him. He also had to build up to be able to carry around the full weight of the 6 pound tank.”

Kinsleigh calls Mr. Gibbs “a work in progress” because he’s still learning to be a little girl’s constant companion. “His job is to go wherever she goes and do whatever she does,” Kinsleigh explains. “If she wants to get on the bike and go down the driveway he has to learn to run alongside. If she’s going to ride on a slide, he has to learn to climb up and slide down behind her.”

Most service dogs don't work with children younger than 5. Teaching Mr. Gibbs to pay attention to a 3-year-old has been a challenge.

Aaron Knobloch told Lauer. “This hasn’t been done with a child this young. He does really well with Debbie and I, but it’s tough for him to listen to a 3-year-old.”

Little Alida gets her share of training, too.

“She actually gets frustrated when he doesn’t listen,” Aaron said. “That’s what we’re working on right now – helping him understand that that is the command. And she doesn’t always speak real clearly, so it’s been tough for him.”

The Knoblochs hope that by the time Alida’s ready to start school, everything will be running smoothly.

“That’s why we’re doing this so early,” Aaron told Lauer. “We’re hoping by the time she gets to kindergarten it will all be figured out and there won’t be any training left to be done and they’ll just go to school.”

Mr. Gibbs may not always have to carry around Alida’s oxygen tank.

Experts say that children seem to “grow out of” NEHI – or at least the need to breath with the help of an oxygen tank. “The general thinking is that these children will only have mild residual disease long term,” Dishop says.

Maybe one day Gibbs' only job description will be: girl’s best friend.

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There are a few things that are not so wonderful about this situation, for the dog. I personally feel very sorry for him.:

“She actually gets frustrated when he doesn’t listen,” Aaron said. “That’s what we’re working on right now – helping him understand that that is the command. And she doesn’t always speak real clearly, so it’s been tough for him.”

Truthfully I feel sorry for any service dog......It's no life for a dog to always be on alert and working.

Yes, but this dog is being "handled" by a three-year-old. The fact that most legitimate service dog agencies wouldn't even consider giving a dog to anyone who wants a dog for a three-year-old "handler" speaks volumes.

The dog is being abused. The child is yanking at him constantly and he's wearing a prong collar.He's tethered to her while she swings???? And gets hit in the head????

I see no mutual affection between the dog and the child. This reminds me of the sad situations where a dog is acquired as a toy for a child and a year later, we get a call to place a dog who is terrified of and/or aggressive with children.Yes, it's very sad that the child has a health condition, but she will outgrow that according to the article.

I question whether this dog was even trained as a true service dog. The name of the person who supposedly trains service dogs doesn't come up on any searches. We have heard numerous times in the past about people with no credentials who call themselves "service dog trainers" and in fact are just selling dogs to unsuspecting people who cannot afford to buy a real service dog from an accredited organization.

A big problem....This is why our policy is to NOT adopt DRC doodles to anyone be it individuals or so called agencies looking for service dogs.


Because we feel strongly that all doodle dogs in our program regardless of their origins, deserve to live carefree, stress-free lives as beloved family members, DRC does NOT adopt dogs to families, individuals or organizations seeking to train & utilize dogs for service work.

There are distinct differences between dogs that participate in "therapy work" and those that are trained as "assistance dogs" or "service dogs." DRC encourages our adopters to consider CGC (Canine Good Citizen) training and certification as any well-mannered dog will enjoy this light-hearted work and benefit from this training program.

"Assistance" or "Service" work  is an entirely different situation and only dogs whose temperaments meet very specific requirements and criteria qualify for a life of service.

Thanks for posting that link, Karen.  I saw the original segment and hated the prong collar and the fact that the dog was being hit in the head with a swing and it didn't seem to bother the parents.  But, the step by step observations of the dog behavior expert showed just how really miserable and stressed the poor dog is.  For goodness sake, he's only a puppy! 

I truly hate prong collars and think that they should be outlawed but, it's even more dispicable to let a 3 yr old constantly pull on the puppy with all of her weight!  I bet the poor dog's neck is very irritated and constantly sore. 

When I see a client using a prong collar in my clinic, I usually try to educate them about how uncomfortable it is for the dog and try to introduce them to a gentle leader head collar instead.  I suggest that they put on the prong collar themselves and give it a good tug to know how it feels.  Most people look at me like I'm crazy with the mere suggestion but, if it hurts you and you wouldn't think of putting it on yourself, why would you put it on your best friend?


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