As featured in the 4 Paws for Ability 2018 Annual Report
Auhner, more commonly known to friends and family as Tiki, was diagnosed at the age of three with Autism/PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified). While Tiki’s family, including his three siblings, are very active, Tiki’s limitations could make normal everyday activities very challenging for him as well as for the rest of the family. Before 4 Paws, Tiki would become overly stimulated and agitated, many times resorting to stimming behaviors that could be perceived as aggressive and disruptive for those who were not accustomed to him. He has significant communication and sensory needs. Tiki struggled with social interactions and his family had to keep constant watch to ensure his safety.
After his parents, Nichole and Dale, discovered service dogs for children with autism, they heard about 4 Paws by word of mouth. A friend of a friend had received their own 4 Paws service dog and after talking with Silas and Abbott’s family, the Keffer family was all in. First and foremost, they hoped that their son would be safer with a service dog. Tiki was growing in age and want for independence, but unable to make decisions that impact his safety and wandering was a continuing concern for their family. Additionally, his family hoped that having a service dog would encourage Tiki to socially interact more with them as well.
Fuzzbert, a Newfoundland Retriever, met Tiki in July 2018, and turned their world around. Nichole said being at 4 Paws on the first day of class felt like being a kid on Christmas again. “When Megan walked Fuzzbert out of the waiting room and I first saw him, I remember hoping and praying that the big ball of fur waiting to meet his boy was everything I needed him to be for Tiki. I was nervous, excited, anxious, and so very hopeful.” Like many, Nichole found class to be exhausting and amazing all at the same time. Each day they spent time both in the classroom and in the “real world” practicing with their new service dog. “The best part of our training was learning how Fuzzbert is able to track Tiki if he wanders away. We spent many hours with our new 4 Paws family practicing these skills at the local parks, and every time one of our dogs was able to successfully track their child I knew we made the right decision.”
Life at home with Fuzzbert has been great for the Keffer family. “We have a sense of security that we didn’t have before. It’s amazing how much better we sleep at night. Tiki is so much calmer when Fuzzbert is with him. Going out to eat as a family was always difficult before due to Tiki’s sensory overload. Now, Tiki will encourage Fuzzbert to lay across his feet under the table when we are at dinner, helping him to self-regulate and keep his body in check. We are able to do so much more as a family now with much less stress and anxiety.”
Tiki spends his afternoons playing ball with Fuzzbert and enjoyed a summer full of camping, boating, swimming, and baseball games. Each day the Keffer family finds another joy to experience with Fuzzbert at their side, but some days the joy becomes hard to describe and harder to measure. “One day when we were out shopping, an employee approached Tiki to talk to him about Fuzzbert. She was genuinely interested in learning about how he is able to help Tiki. After talking with me, she turned and started talking with Tiki. She spoke to him. She asked Tiki what his dog’s name was, and he responded to her. She told him that Fuzzbert was a beautiful dog and smiled at him. Tiki looked her in the eyes, and he smiled back. It doesn’t seem like much to others, but for us, it was truly a magical moment. Fuzzbert gave Tiki a reason to interact with someone outside of our family, and for us, that was priceless. He was so proud, so happy.” If the least of which a service dog provides is community, that life has been enriched beyond measure, and 4 Paws is so glad Fuzzbert has enriched Tiki’s life in this way, among many others.