Rescue Dog Helps Autistic Child Find His Voice And Overcome Anxiety

Jul 19, 2022 by apost team

Love can be found in the most unexpected places, which is what one family from Dekalb County, Georgia, learned in the most adorable way possible.

When Linda and Grant Hickey welcomed their second child Jonny, they were over the moon. But before Jonny had even reached his first birthday, they began suspecting something was wrong as he failed to hit his developmental milestones. After a series of evaluations, he was eventually diagnosed with autism.

Over the years, the quiet Jonny struggled with social interactions, keeping mainly to himself. He would throw tantrums in public and needed help learning to do basic tasks, such as putting on his shoes. While his parents continued to nurture and support him, the feeling that something more could be done was always in the back of their minds.

Then, one fateful day in September 2012, Linda came across a news report of a severely abused puppy found near her neighborhood. Named Xena by her rescuers to instill some “fighting spirit” in her, the puppy was in “one of the worst states” some of them had ever seen in a dog. Linda was so moved by Xena’s story that she continued to follow her recovery process via social media, checking every day to see how the poor pup was doing.

Once Xena appeared to have recuperated, it dawned on Linda that they could adopt the dog. After contacting the rescuers, they decided to start with a trial visit that included a sleepover. With Jonny unaware that Xena was coming, a big shock awaited the entire family.

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When Jonny hopped into the car with Xena, Linda said the impact could be seen immediately. 

“He couldn’t believe it. It was a complete surprise. She’s licking him all over his face. And he (had a) smile from ear to ear.”

Linda was taken aback. They already had two dogs, but Jonny never interacted with them. So to see her son overcome with emotion was a tremendous joy.

“You know, we’ve spent thousands of dollars on therapy and I just said to myself that that is the best therapist standing on four legs in my family room.”

For Grant, going out in public with his son has become a totally new experience. 

“Now, when we go into the Kroger, Jonny has affection for everybody. He doesn't want to be in the car. He wants to be on the ground touching the folks. I would run after Jonny thinking he's going to hit somebody and then Jonny spreads his arms out and says, ‘Give me a hug.’”

The grateful parents credit Xena with alleviating Jonny’s anxiety, saying that before, their son used to have “not-so-good days and some bad days,” but with Xena by his side, it turned into “good days and great days.”

“There was immediate laughter in my home,” Linda said. “There was singing, (Jonny) was talking.”

Xena has since been named ASPCA Dog of the Year, and a viral video of the duo’s bond has racked up more than nine million views, a testament to how much the story has resonated with animal lovers. But for Jonny, Xena is simply his beloved, best four-legged friend who has gone from survivor to savior.

Did Jonny and Xena’s story warm your heart? Do you have a bond with a special animal in your life? Let us know and pass this on to anyone who needs a smile on their face right now.

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