UPDATE – 'Xena the Warrior Puppy' Visits Gainesville RYDC
"Xena the Warrior Puppy" and Chrissy Kaczynski, founding member of Friends of DeKalb Animals rescue group.
"Xena the Warrior Puppy" was so popular among DJJ youth when she made a special visit to the Marietta RYDC this summer, she was invited to make a return engagement at the Gainesville Regional Youth Detention Center in Hall County in July.
Xena's canine fame has fetched her new stardom since her last visit to DJJ. Xena collared a new title as the 2014 American Humane Association's Emerging Hero Dog Award.
Performing for a packed house, Xena the Warrior Puppy 'Bow-WOW'ed' her adoring Gainesville audience. Her new north Georgia fans came to see her share her story that traumas and past problems can be overcome and a better life can be found.
But Xena's not happy just posing on her blanket for the cameras. It's the job of the top dog to help spread a message about persevering against low survival odds and how animal friendships can even improve the quality of life for people enduring serious illness.
Special thanks goes out to Linda Hickey for bringing Xena the Warrior Puppy to the Gainesville RYDC, Deputy Commissioner of Operations and Compliance Sarah Draper for making the arrangements, and the DJJ Communications Team for documenting the Marietta RYDC event.
Below are excerpts from the original Today Show story about the past sorrow and current success of Xena the Warrior Puppy.
Xena the Warrior Puppy, rescued from abuse, helps 8-year-old boy with autism
For most of Jonny Hickey’s eight years of life, solitude had 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.
Then, about two months ago, everything changed. Jonny forged a connection so unlikely that people familiar with it describe it as a miracle. His new confidante brings out the best in him — his playfulness, his cute singing voice, his verbal assessments of everything he sees and experiences.
Jonny connected with a dog.
“He is non-stop chatter now!” Jonny’s mother, Linda Hickey told TODAY.com. “He has so much to say about his math, about what he did in P.E.
“He is the happiest child that I’ve ever seen him be in eight years.”
A lover and a fighter
Jonny’s transformation begins with the miracle that the dog survived to meet Jonny at all.
Mere months before she bounded into Jonny’s world, the pup was brought to the DeKalb County Animal Services’ shelter in Georgia after she collapsed in someone’s yard. When staff members saw her, they recoiled in shock.
“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 Animal Services and is a founding member of the rescue group Friends of DeKalb Animals. “I brought her home with me and I didn’t think she’d make it through the night.”
But with fluids, nutritional supplements and an urgent vet visit, the puppy began to perk up. Veterinary and shelter staff guessed she was about 4 months old and must have been confined — and starved — in a cage before being dumped.
“She was completely dehydrated and her nose was all scabbed over ... like she had been trying to escape something,” Kaczynski said.
Her rapid recovery prompted Kaczynski to dub her “Xena the Warrior Puppy.” A Facebook page soon followed. One local who found Xena’s story irresistible was Linda Hickey, Jonny’s mom.
“Yes, I fell in love with a dog on the Internet!” said Linda, whose family lives in Johns Creek, Ga., with two other lovable dogs that are a bit too old or frail to play non-stop with a young boy.
When Friends of DeKalb Animals announced that Xena, believed to be a Staffordshire terrier mix, was strong enough to appear at a fund-raising event in November, Linda brought her family to meet the puppy in person.
“We were literally there for four minutes, and Xena ran right up to Jonny and my husband,” Linda said. “I already loved this dog, and after I met her, I really loved this dog.”
Not surprisingly, the family adopted Xena soon after.
On their first trial day together — Feb. 11 — Linda decided to bring Xena along in the minivan when she picked Jonny up from school. Jonny smiled widely, then melted in the onslaught of unconditional affection.
“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.”
The calming presence of dogs
Research regarding the effects of companion animals on kids with autism is limited but encouraging. One study published earlier this year revealed that children with autism spectrum disorder were more likely to talk, laugh, make eye contact and show other positive social behaviors in the presence of guinea pigs than they were in the presence of toys.
And in a 2006 pilot investigation, children with autism spoke and interacted much more when they could pet dogs or rabbits, throw balls for dogs, ride llamas and engage with animals in other ways during occupational therapy sessions.
‘A pretty perfect team’
Since the adoption, Linda has been providing updates to Xena’s 19,000-plus fans on Facebook, an activity that’s been a balm to her.
To learn more about the work of Friends of DeKalb Animals, click here.
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO VOTE FOR XENA AS THE 2014 AMERICAN HUMANE SOCIETY HERO DOG OF THE YEAR, CLICK HERE...