RISING SUN — In a family living room with three kids moving constantly, Hulu kept her eyes on Trace.
Hulu, a golden retriever and Labrador retriever mix and the newest member of the Coudon family, is a service dog for Trace, 7. Hulu came to the family after a two-year process through 4 Paws for Ability, an Ohio-based nonprofit that trains dogs for those with disabilities.
Trace has a rare form of epilepsy called autosomal dominant nocturnal frontal lobe epilepsy. When he was 5 years old, Trace would have clusters of seizures in the middle of the night and become disoriented and agitated. Sometimes it would take days to recover.
That agitation would lead to behavioral issues and repetitive motions.
Now thanks to medical intervention — and with help from Hulu — the seizures come with less frequency and less intensity and the dog is a calming influence, diffusing that agitated state.
Heather Coudon said in the three weeks Hulu has been in her son’s life she already sees a change.
“I think he feels safer,” she said of her middle child.
Joe Coudon, Trace’s dad, agrees that Trace is calmer, and is beginning to open up to the world around him.
Even just a few weeks in, the bond happening between boy and dog was evident as the two played at the family’s Rising Sun home last week. To show how it works, Trace will flail his hands in front of him. In response, the dog will get close and nuzzle him.
“It’s called behavior disruption,” Heather explained.
If Hulu sees Trace locked in some repetitive action, she will interrupt it and calm the child.
“The first time she did it he kind of stopped and looked at her. He started doing it again. She tapped him again. He sat down and she sat with him,” Heather said.
Hulu can also tell when Trace is going to have a seizure. It’s called “pre-alert.” Heather said humans give off certain scents that dogs can detect including an early warning of seizure activity.
As if on cue, Hulu began to lick Trace’s face.
“Ten hours from now he’ll have a seizure,” Heather predicted. And he did.
However everyone is different, she said. Another person training in their training group would experience a seizure an hour after the pre-alert from his dog.
Hulu is also trained to bark and alert the Coudons during an active seizure. That’s a relief because now the couple does not have to take turns staying awake all night to make sure Trace is OK.
“We’re finally starting to get some sleep,” Joe said.
Hulu also helps Trace in that department.
“Before he was having trouble getting to sleep for fear he’d have a seizure,” Joe said.
Knowing Hulu is with him has definitely helped him sleep better.
“He calls her into his bed,” Heather said, noting that having her there is comforting. “She sleeps there all night.”
Even the sniffing and licking isn’t so bad, according to Trace.
“It means she’s working,” he said of his new best friend.
The Rising Sun family had to raise $15,000 to get Hulu, though in reality 4 Paws for Ability has a pay-it-forward policy in which the money one person raises pays for the next person’s dog. With help from the community and family, the Coudons quickly raised the funds by early 2015.
A survey helped 4 Paws for Ability determine which dog to assign to the active child with a head full of blonde curls and an infectious grin. Heather knew they wanted a larger breed with a long nose, which is better for scent detection.
On July 22, they got their first look at Hulu in an email sent with a photo. After traveling to Ohio for two weeks of training, Trace and Hulu met at last on July 31.
“I was amazed,” Trace said. “She’s smart and her ears are so soft.”
Seven days a week, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Trace trained with Hulu as did his parents.
“It was Trace, me and Joe until Aug. 8,” Heather said. “Then Joey and Harper joined us.”
Harper, 2, was more interested in figuring out how to wear one of the red vests made for Hulu that lets people know she is a service dog on the job. Joey, 9, was having trouble understanding why it was important that only Trace feed Hulu and give her treats. Heather explained this is part of the all-important bonding process.
“It’s so amazing to watch what has happened so far,” Joe said.
When he goes back to school, Trace will not take Hulu with him right away, Joe said. Boy and dog need to have more time together before she can come to school.
“And as big of a tool as this is we don’t want him to be uncomfortable at school and be a distraction,” Joe said.
The Coudons are unsure of what could happen should Hulu pre-alert while in the classroom, or even alert on another classmate.
Instead they continue to work with their son to help him connect with Hulu.
“It’s limitless for him,” Joe said. “A year from now they are going to be best friends.”