[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hree-year-old Alida Knobloch and her 60-pound golden doodle, Mr. Gibbs, are almost inseparable. They are connected by a special bond of love and, because of Alida’s rare lung disease, by a two-foot tube that delivers oxygen from tanks on the dog’s back to Alida’s nose. Diagnosed at eight months old with neuroendocrine cell hyperplasia of infancy (NEHI), Alida, who lives in Loganville, Georgia, is unable to breathe normally on her own for more than about 45 minutes. So Mr. Gibbs accompanies her almost everywhere, carrying ten pounds of equipment, including an oxygen tank in a vest.
Young children normally don’t have the skill to control a service dog, but Mr. Gibbs and Alida—along with her parents, Aaron and Debbie Knobloch—have worked closely with dog trainer Ashleigh Kinsleigh to foster the special relationship between girl and dog.
“His job is to do whatever she does,” says Kinsleigh. So far, Mr. Gibbs has learned to trot alongside Alida’s bike, trail her as she plays around the family home, and park himself below her high chair while she eats.
“We’re hoping that by the time Alida starts kindergarten, Mr. Gibbs will be able to go with her,” says Aaron.
Childhood disease experts have told the Knoblochs that children can grow out of the necessity for supplemental oxygen, but Alida will probably always need some kind of oxygen assistance. Now the Knoblochs can’t imagine a time the two sandy-tressed companions won’t be side-by-side. Mr. Gibbs seems to need Alida as much as she needs him, says Aaron. “The dog is beside himself if he and Alida are apart even for a moment.”