After the Hickey family spent years, and thousands of dollars of counseling for their autistic son, they finally found a treatment that worked and it came from an abused, half-dead pitbull puppy who was given a second chance at life.
Georgia residents Grant and Linda Hickey were overjoyed when their second baby, Johnny was born. But after they brought him home, it did not take long before they realized something was wrong.
“We couldn’t understand what was going on,” said Linda in an interview with CNN.
Johnny was diagnosed with autism at a young age.
As any concerned parents would do, they sought the opinion of several doctors. Shortly after, Johnny was diagnosed with autism.
“We have to teach Johnny everything,” Linda told CNN.
But on top of the developmental issues, Johnny was particularly challenging. For example, Johnny was afraid of handling food.
“I couldn’t even order cold cuts at the deli counter,” Grant said in a video produced by the ASPCA. “Johnny would just start screaming.”
Therapy did not help his developmental issues.
Challenging as it was, the Hickey family loved Johnny, and did all they could to find treatment for their son. However, after years and thousands of dollars on therapy there was not much of a change in his behavior.
That was when they heard about little Xena, a pitbull puppy rescued from an abusive owner. Linda Hickey saw the plucky little dog’s story on the news, and was captivated.
“I prayed for this baby at night, and first thing in the morning I would get on my laptop and see if she had made it through the night,” Linda told CNN.
Xena was starved for days, and physically abused. When animal control found her, she was near-death.
Linda heard about Xena, an abused puppy, in the news. She wanted to adopt the dog, but her husband was reluctant.
“In all the years that I had been doing rescue, I have not seen a puppy in that same condition,” Chrissy Kaczynski, founder of Friends for Animals, and rescue coordinator at Dekalb County Animal Services, told the ASPCA.
With diligent work, though, little Xena pulled through and soon she was put up for adoption. Linda, who had been following Xena’s story knew instantly that she must adopt her. Her husband was far more reticent.
“We got a son with autism, we already have two dogs, do we really need to add a pitbull, and what kind of issues is the dog going to have?” Grant remembered, according to CNN.
But Linda convinced him, and the shelter accepted their application to adopt Xena. When they finally went to pick up Xena to foster her for a few nights, they brought Johnny along.
The Hickey’s adopted Xena. They were surprised when Xena and Johnny formed a deep bond.
They did not expect Johnny to have any meaningful interaction with the little puppy. At home, he did not generally play with the family’s two other dogs. However, as soon as Xena entered the car, Linda noticed a major change.
“There was just so much chatter,” Linda told CNN. “I never heard Johnny talk so much in this house as he did that day.”
That was the beginning of not just a beautiful friendship, but a major change in Johnny’s behavior.
“I could just cry thinking about it,” Grant told CNN. “The dog had such an impact on our son that tens of thousands of dollars worth of therapy didn’t have.”
Extraordinarily, Johnny even got over his fear of food. Not only was he touching it, he was feeding the family’s dogs.
Through their friendship, Johnny started to overcome some developmental aspect of his autism.
“He cuts up bananas and puts bananas in their food,” Grant told CNN. “He’s actually part of the process when we make our own dog food for the dogs.”
Clearly the two share a special bond, but Christian Hickey, Johnny’s brother, thinks it goes deeper.
“They’re very connected,” Christian told CNN. “I feel like they understand each other, almost on a spiritual level.”
The two are now inseparable, and love each other very much. The Hickey’s may have saved Xena, but Xena definitely saved Johnny.