For most of Jonny Hickey’s eight years of life, solitude has suited him just fine.
He adores his mom and dad, of course, and he loves his older brother. He also views some special ed teachers as rare, trusted allies. Still, none of those people could get many words out of him.
It’s not that Jonny can’t talk. He knows how to speak, and he can read with proficiency. But autism left him closed off and isolated. Most of his social interactions result in painful awkwardness; unfamiliar situations can trigger terror, tantrums or both. Seeking comfort and predictability, he’d embrace solitary activities; on a typical day after school, he’d spend hours playing with marbles in silence.
They were two lost souls in need of a true friend. Jonny Hickey was an eight-year-old boy with autism who didn’t speak much at all.
Xena was an emaciated, abused puppy who was so far gone that her rescuers doubted she would make it.
Diagnosed with autism at an early age, Jonny was comfortable around his family members, but social interactions with strange people and in new environments caused him to react in terror and withdraw into silence.
An officer rescued Xena after she collapsed in a backyard in Georgia. The puppy weighed four pounds, and her condition horrified the employees of the Dekalb Animal Services.
“I’ve been doing rescue probably for about 12 years, and I had never seen a dog that young in that sort of condition,” said Chrissy Kaczynski, the founding member of Canine Caravan Rescue, formerly Friends of Dekalb Animals rescue organization. “I brought her home with me and I didn’t think she’d make it through the night.”
But Xena wasn’t ready to give up on life, and with fluids and additional medical care, she began to make a miraculous recovery. Xena’s story went viral, catching the attention of Jonny Hickey’s mother, Linda.
When she found out that Xena would be making an appearance on behalf of Friends of DeKalb Animals’ fundraising event, Linda brought her whole family to meet the pup.
Xena immediately gravitated toward Jonny and his family. An incredible bond of friendship formed at that moment, and after a trial period, Xena became a permanent family member.
Despite the fact that the Hickeys already owned two dogs, Jonny only opened up with Xena, who rides with him on the way to school every morning. “From that very first day, that dog was sitting in his lap in the car seat, giving him all these kisses,” Linda Hickey said. “And that’s where she’s been ever since.”
After Xena’s arrival, there was an immediate change in Jonny’s behavior. After observing the boy and dog together, Linda Hickey stated, “We’ve spent thousands of dollars on therapy, and I just said to myself that is the best therapy, standing, four-legs, in my family room.”
Indeed, with Xena at his side, Jonny has become more outgoing and confident, and his anxieties have diminished significantly.
Jonny was even able to make a video with Xena for April is Autism Awareness Month and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month. They did a great job, and the love they have for each other is evident in their eyes!
Xena received the highest of accolades when she was named the ASPCA 2013 Dog of the Year!
From death’s door, Xena fought back to become the guiding light and best friend to a boy who needed her. Jonny’s mother said it best: “I really believe God had a plan. These two were destined to be together — to save each other at a level that humans just can’t understand.”
Watch Xena’s rescue video below and learn more details about how she became Jonny’s best friend. Follow them on their Facebook page, and be sure to share their beautiful story with your friends and family on Facebook!