Jonny Hickey spent most of his eight years on earth alone and withdrawn. Jonny’s autism left him with few allies outside his immediate family. But when the family brought home an abused dog named Xena, Jonny’s life changed for the better. The bond between a boy and his dog will warm your heart

12. An 8-Year Old Boy

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Jonny Hickey is an eight-year old boy who loves his mom and dad and big brother. Although Jonny can read and write, he rarely chooses to communicate verbally. His autism left him struggling to come out of his shell. He would rarely even talk.

11. Autism Struggles

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Social interaction is a struggle for Jonny. He prefers situations that are familiar; when people and circumstances change, it can trigger extreme panic in Jonny. To avoid these challenging interactions, Jonny kept to himself. After school he would have a routine that involved playing marbles by himself, in total silence.

10. An Abused Puppy

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On the other side of town, an abused puppy had suffered from extreme neglect. Xena the dog was in such as state when she was rescued that her rescuers thought she wouldn’t survive the night. She had clearly been abused for her entire life and she was very timid.

9. Just Four Pounds

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A police officer first spotted her collapsing in the backyard of a home in george. She only weighed four pounds. She was in worse shape than any animal the employees of the Dekalb Animal Services had ever seen.

8. Terrible Conditions

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“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. “I brought her home with me and I didn’t think she’d make it through the night.”

7. The Dog Was a Fighter

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Xena did not stop fighting, however. After a medical team cave her plenty of fluids and care, she blossomed into a strong and sensitive dog. When Xena’s story went viral, one of the people who noticed it was Jonny’s mom, Linda.

6. A Meeting

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Xena was scheduled to make an appearance at Friends of DeKalb Animals’ fundraising event. The Hickey family already had two dogs and were animal lovers, so Linda decided that her whole family should attend the event and meet Xena.

5. Instant Friendship

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The meeting between Xena and Jonny was instantaneous. They became fast friends. Jonny’s reaction made Linda decide to apply to adopt the dog. After a few weeks as a trial, Xena was formally adopted into the family. Xena completely altered the course of Jonny’s autism.

4. Kisses and Love

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Although the family already had two dogs, Jonny had never bonded with them the way he took to Xena. She has become an important part of his daily routine, riding with him to and from school. “From that very first day, that dog was sitting in his lap in the car seat, giving him all these kisses,” Linda said. “And that’s where she’s been ever since.”

3. The Best Therapy

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Jonny’s verbal skill improved and he was more social. Linda observed his remarkable change in behavior and commented, “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.”

2. Video Co-Stars

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Xena has made Jonny a more confident child. His anxieties, tantrums and shyness have diminished. Jonny felt outgoing enough to make a video for Autism Awareness Month and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month, which are both celebrated in April. The video shows how much the boy and his dog care for each other.

1. Dog of the Year

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Xena’s story inspired the ASPCA to award her the 2013 Dog of the Year. It was a long way from where she started as an emaciated pup. Linda Hickey knows that this was the dog who was destined for her son. “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.”