Monday, May 28, 2012

Welcome Home Tigger!

It finally came – the day we have been working towards, preparing for, and eagerly awaiting – May 27th; the day we got to meet Tigger and bring him home with us! Though I admit to having a slight case of nerves (My first dog! And not just any dog, a very special service dog I am going to help train! Eep!), our anticipation was well rewarded with an amazing homecoming. Below, see how our first day with Tigger unfolded -- in pictures!

Tigger's trainer, Kim from Noelle's Dogs Four Hope, requested that we meet her at a mall near her home in PA. She wanted to meet in a public place so she could not only introduce us to Tigger, but could begin to train us on the public access training commands we will be working on while we have Tigger for the next 6 months (after which time he returns to Kim for 3 final months of specialty seizure response training). Though Simon was a little hesitant at first, with some encouragement he pat Tigger's head. Tigger is very gentle and sat quite still as he met his boy for the first time.

Over the next 2 hours we walked around the mall practicing commands and getting to know our new family member. Though I could tell Tigger wasn't quite sure who to listen to (I held the leash and the treats but he still looked to Kim for commands), I was impressed by how well-behaved this seven-month-old puppy was in a relatively populated public setting. The only time he balked was at the elevator (he doesn't like elevators -- something we have to work on with him), and when it was time for him to part from his trainer. I know it was hard for Kim to leave him, too -- how could you not fall in love with this face?

Pretty soon we were on our own -- a newly minted service dog family. 

Everyone took a nap on the way home. It had been a very busy afternoon for kids and puppies (and parents!).

When we came home we discovered our house had been decorated! Our amazing neighbors, the Beckers, had created a very warm welcome. I teared up (as usual) reading the note on the door: "Dear Tiggger, We want to welcome you to our neighborhood! You could not of asked for a better family then the Hatcher's! You will love Simon and adore Olivia, we do! Love, The Beckers"

Tigger was eager to explore his new surroundings and (much to our surprise) Simon wanted to help. I think Simon understands how it feels to want to explore a new place, and so he took Tigger's leash for his very first walk around the house. Simon let Tigger lead, which was very polite of him.

Dinner time! We've been told to try to get Simon to do as much of the care-taking as possible, so Tigger will understand that Simon is "his" boy. In fact, one of the main things we will be working on over the next several months is creating a bond between Simon and Tigger.
Tigger was very interested in Simon's bath. Simon told Tigger he was too big to join him in the tub and should come back later.

Time for bed. We had been nervous about this -- we didn't know whether Simon would be okay with the dog in his room, or if Tigger would be alright being left with Simon. But, one of the main reasons we got Tigger was to help us respond to Simon's nocturnal seizures, and for him to do that he needs to be with Simon when he sleeps. "Start out as you mean to go on" are words I have lived by since the days of babyhood and Tigger's trainer agreed. Put them in the room together and shut the door was what she suggested and (after talking to Simon about it and having him say it was okay, another surprise), that was what we did.
As soon as we left the "boys" alone together, Brian and I turned on the video monitor to watch what happened. We were pretty anxious, especially since Tigger started to whine almost as soon as we shut the door, and Simon pulled his covers over his head. However, after just a little while, a day that had already been special became spectacular.

As Tigger cried, Simon told him to "shh!", but gradually he started to talk to Tigger. And he talked to Tigger for over an hour -- IN ARTICULATE, ORIGINAL SENTENCES THAT DEMONSTRATED EMPATHY.

Here is a sample from a video we took (as soon as we recovered from our shock enough to realize we should be recording this momentous occasion!)

"I'm sorry Tigger. It's okay. You're trapped. Be quiet. Time to go to sleep. Let's take a nap." Then, when Tigger hopped onto Simon's rather small toddler bed: "Tigger, you're too big. You sleep on your bed (pointing) over there. Time to go to sleep." Tigger didn't budge. Simon sat, thinking for a moment, and then he finally decided to give Tigger his nightlight and lay down with him. (I can't overstate how shocked we were!). Finally, Simon sang a song to Tigger that he sings to himself when he is scared at the doctor's. Within a few more minutes, they were both asleep. 

Now, I had heard about service dogs being used to encourage language and empathy in kids with autism. I'd heard that kids who were otherwise inarticulate and friendless were able to gain both language skills and a bond of love when paired with the right animal. I honestly never really believed it. Though I hoped that Simon would find a friendship of sorts with Tigger, I have been so completely focused on Tigger's potential to protect Simon during one of his dangerous status seizures that I really considered anything additional a pleasant but unlikely and less necessary bonus.


Today, we took Tigger and Simon out for the first time on our own to buy a bed big enough for the two of them.


  1. This is so AWESOME!! Have fun & enjoy the process. At times is can get overwhelming, but it is so worth it in the end.

  2. SO, SO amazing! I'm so glad the transition is starting out so well! I'm so happy to see him home with you guys, and him and Simon already bonding! Sounds like the beginnings of a really awesome friendship!!!

  3. Oh, Laura. How absolutely beautiful. What a gift Tigger is for Simon--and it sounds like Tigger is going to be so loved by his boy!

  4. I love every single part of this story. Welcome home, Tigger.

  5. love the post and the pictures!!! glad it's going so well! welcome home tigger!!!

  6. Tigger is wonderful. Tonight when I met him for the first time he came right up to me and wanted me to pet him. He is very friendly, calm and smart. I looked in his soft brown eyes and told him I thought he was beautiful and that I loved him already. I secretly said a prayer in my heart that everything will work out and the bond between him and Simon will grow stronger every day. I thanked him too for being so smart and good and for perhaps saving Simon's life one day. I also asked God to bless everyone two-fold, (like the Bible says) who gave so much without being asked so that he could be here. And for those who support Laura my daughter and her family through all the the ups and downs.