The heartwarming story of a boy and his dog is an American tale told time and time again, but never quite like this. Seven months ago, Friends of DeKalb Animal Rescue in Georgia found an emaciated, abused puppy, naming her Xena the Warrior puppy after her miraculous recovery. Little did they know, Xena would be a bit of a miracle herself. Xena’s pictures were so astonishing that she quickly became a celebrity, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars for the rescue group. At a fundraiser for the animal rescue, Xena picked a pal—running straight to a little boy named Johnny. Johnny is an autistic boy who is verbal, but has always been very withdrawn and uncomfortable with others. Their grand introduction was puppy-love-at-first-sight. Johnny’s family adopted Xena once she was healthy enough to bring home. According to Johnny’s parents, Xena brought about a change in Johnny almost instantly—encouraging him to talk often and excitedly. Johnny asked his mom to make a video of him and Xena for Autism Awareness month, which he learned is also Prevention of Cruelty to Animals month. In the video, Johnny is wonderfully spoken, sending a message about understanding saying, “Spread the word to be nice to animals and nice to kids like me.”
Animal assisted therapy is a popular approach to coping with autism, but rarely is it associated with communication skills and habits like Johnny’s transformation. Perhaps Johnny and Xena’s instant connection had something to do with Xena’s marginalization. Some animal assisted therapy programs are also animal rescue and rehabilitation centers, like Merlin’s Kids. In these programs, like with Johnny’s story, the support is mutual and the affects are astonishing. To see Johnny’s video, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LEG2CqTxHzw. Do Share your opinion on animal assisted therapy or stories of your children with animals!