The wonderful thing about Tigger

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Emily E. Amyotte & Tech. Sgt. Jake Meyer
  • 190th Public Affairs
Senior Airman Taylor Wheeler, 190th fuels system journeyman, stood tall and proud in front of her colleagues. As Major General Lee Tafanelli, Kansas Adjutant General, approached Wheeler to bestow an award, her admiring dog Tigger slowly inched his  way in between the two.

Tigger could sense his partner was nervous and wanted to inform the general of this. Maintaining his professionalism, first he pawed and licked at the general's shoe, but he went unacknowledged by means of the ceremony at hand. Seeing that this didn't work, and being the persistent friend he is, he gently nibbled on the polished shoe. After the nibble, the general moved on and the ceremony was over. To Tigger, he had successfully protected his master.

The crowd admired Tigger's action while smiling and stifling giggles.

Tigger wasn't always around to bring joy to Wheeler and the 190th Air Refueling Wing. He first joined Wheeler's side in September of this year. And he came to her at just the right time.

"I got so used to life the way it was, that when my fiancé finally found out, he did everything he could to help," she said. "I think the fact that I finally admitted it to myself and basically let everyone become aware of it is when I broke down and lost it. I got so used to bottling everything up and never feeling, ever. That's when it all finally came out I didn't know how to handle life anymore."

Spending her entire childhood with mentally and physically abusive parents, Wheeler grew up believing that this was the normal family atmosphere and that all children were experiencing the same things as her. But she knew that if she took the abuse, it would mean protecting her siblings. And for the longest time, she would shoulder her past by herself.

Years later, her fiancé Derek was able to help her start the healing process to overcome her past. Through this process, Wheeler began meeting with the base psychologist who suggested she find others who could relate with her and cope together.

She met Army Master Sgt. Lyle Babcock, who introduced her to the Warrior's Best Friend Foundation, a program that partners military member with support dogs. This is where she laid eyes on Tigger.

"I was terrified when I first went there," Wheeler said. "I thought this dog is going to hate me, they're going to hate me. I'm not going to do well. But, it actually went really well the first time I saw him. I thought, man, that's a huge dog. It scared me a little bit but he's such a little marshmallow and it's amazing."

It took some time for Tigger and Wheeler to become the duo that they are today, but Wheeler says it could not have been a better outcome.

"At any moment he'll have all this energy," Wheeler said. "This is good because he'll be able to keep up with me. But there are times where the depression part of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder will kick in and if I lift a finger, that will be a lucky moment for me. And he's constantly there for that. He can tell if I'm having a bad day because he'll try and distract me no matter what."

After adjusting to all the changes, Tigger adapted to his partner and now loves his job and is a true professional. He is now glued to her side and has become a permanent part of the Wheeler household.

"Since I've had him, I've done a complete 180," she said. "I'm a happier person. I'm a lot more outgoing. I feel like a better person. Yeah, he frustrates me sometimes like I probably frustrate him, but I wouldn't trade him for anything."

Wheeler, Derek and her two-year old daughter, Natalie, all benefit from having Tigger as part of the family. He is as much of a support system for the entire family as he is for Wheeler, she says.

Wheeler's four-legged partner will stay with her and her family, both at home and at the 190th, for the remainder of his time. He will continue to be the reason for smiles along side of Wheeler, continuing to bring joy to everyone he touches.

"It's crazy how you see peoples' moods just flip any time they see him," Wheeler said. "And people pass by the office and say hi to Tigger. He seems to not only be helping me, but helping anyone."

Tigger has touched Wheeler's life in a way that nothing else but a dog could, and she is grateful for what he has been able to provide for her, she said.

"It was like a godsend," she said. "Like a slap in the face that everything was going to be okay. And thinking about life without him, I couldn't imagine it. He's helped me with so much, I don't know how I'm going to repay him without giving him treats all the time.
I'm really grateful he's around, basically my second born," she added as Tigger lifted his head to look at her.