Eight-year-old Jonny Hickey had a lot of trouble making friends. At an early age, Jonny was diagnosed with autism. Social interactions outside his immediate family triggered severe anxiety and outbursts. For the most part, Jonny preferred his solitude, quietly playing alone with his toys. But little did he know, he was about to meet his best friend.
In Feb. 2013, Xena came into Jonny’s life and changed it for the better. This adorable pit bull mix brought Jonny out of his shell and helps him conquer his fears. But, their meeting almost didn’t happen.
It’s hard to imagine that the beautiful and healthy dog in the previous picture started out like this. This was the condition rescuers at the DeKalb Animal Services’ shelter in Georgia found Xena. She was brought to the shelter after she collapsed in someone’s yard.
Vets at the center confirmed that the puppy was around four months old and probably confined to a cage without food and water before being tossed out to die. “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, who works for DeKalb Animal Services, “I brought her home with me and I didn’t think she’d make it through the night.”
On Feb. 11, on their first trial-day together, Linda decided to bring Xena along to pick Jonny up 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.”
Research has shown that animals help increase the social behaviors in children with autism. A 2013 study found that children with autism were more likely to laugh, talk and make eye contact in the presence of guinea pigs than they did in the presence of toys. The therapeutic link between children with autism and dogs has been clearly established. The center for Autism Service Dogs of America has been pairing autistic children with therapy dogs for over a decade.
10. April Is A Special Month
In April 2013, Johnny and Xena recorded an adorable video in honor of Autism awareness month, which also happened to be Prevention of Cruelty to Animals month. “My name is Jonny and this is my puppy, Xena,” he said in the video. “Well, my Xena was hurt really bad by some not-so-nice people. And I have autism. So, I think we make a pretty perfect team to spread the words to be nice to animals and kids like me.” He then placed a big kiss on the top of Xena’s head.
Prior to adopting Xena, the Hickey’s already had two dogs, Sally the lab and Petunia the dachshund, but Jonny just didn’t connect with them as he grew up the way that he connected with Xena. So, no one could say that any dog can do what Xena does. Xena and Jonny have a very special connection.
Xena helps Jonny overcome his anxieties on a daily basis. Linda told Today.com about how she tried to bring Jonny to get a haircut but he became overwhelmed with the situation. She returned the next day with her husband Grant and Xena in tow. Grant went inside the salon with Jonny and Linda stayed outside with Xena.
“I’d wave her paw so he could see her,” Linda said. “With Xena there, he got the haircut.”
Xena also helps Jonny by lying on him. She is like a living weighted blanket. Having something heavy encompass someone with anxiety can help calm their nerves.
“I’m not a doctor, but I do know Jonny has a zillion sensory issues and I wonder if that pressure is calming for him,” Linda said.
Xena and Jonny’s Facebook page has over 145,000 likes. Their touching story has also been shared in over 95 countries. Xena has become so famous that in her spare time she even volunteers at children’s hospitals and visits prisoners who are in a dog-training rehabilitation program. Due to all the amazing things Xena has done, she deserved some recognition.
In 2013, Xena was awarded “Dog of the Year” by the ASPCA. The Hickey family traveled to New York City to receive Xena’s award where Linda delivered a beautiful speech on Xena’s behalf. Even Jonny was able to get over his anxieties and get up on stage in front of an entire crowd and cheer, “We are in New York City!” You can watch the entire amazing acceptance speech here.