Saki was just a puppy when she was rescued off the streets. The German shepherd was taken in by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, selected to be trained to search out and rescue people after earthquakes, floods, and other testy situations.
Saki had a great sense of smell, and was a keen and determined dog. They thought she would be a perfect fit.
Dennie Fiddler fostered the 1-year-old puppy at her home in California until Saki’s official training program would begin.
After a week or two, Fiddler realized that most mornings, she’d look around for Saki — and wouldn’t find a trace of her.
It turned out that Saki had found a hole through Fiddler’s fence, and would take off in a specific direction as if following a certain scent.
And that scent led Saki to a house across the street. The first day she found it, she went right up to the front fence, and stuck her face through an opening to greet the family.
“When Saki first appeared on our doorstep, my husband was conveniently out of town,” Dixie Morgan said. She and her husband honestly weren’t dog people, and never considered getting the children a dog.
She and her husband had three adopted children, and their youngest was Danny, who they adopted when he was only a 6-month-old baby because his teenage father knew he couldn’t raise a child, and wanted to find Danny a home.
The doctors had told Morgan then that Danny likely had cerebral palsy and serious developmental issues — as a baby he could not hold up his head, he couldn’t sit, and couldn’t eat solid foods.
The couple was not deterred, but as Danny grew older, communication was still horribly difficult for him. He could not string together full sentences and could only communicate in fragments.
They coached him and encouraged him, but nothing seemed to help.
But when he saw Saki that day — there was an immediate change.
“At first we were all scared because we thought Saki was going to try to hurt us — she looked a little weird at first but she’s still pretty — and then Danny went up to her and he hugged her!” said Cecily, Morgan’s daughter. “Wow, he turned into this different person.”
“Danny would take her head into his hands, and look her in the eyes, and talk to her,” Morgan said. “And she would listen as if she had a reply.”
This, coming from her son who previously couldn’t bring himself to communicate in full sentences, was incredible for Morgan to witness. And now it seemed like Danny had someone he felt he could really communicate with.
“Socially, he doesn’t always interact effectively with his peers. But he did with the dog. Saki understood him. They understood each other,” she told LA Times.
His teachers at school saw a great improvement in Danny as well. Effectively, Morgan said, Saki had become a younger sibling figure to Danny, and he was proud to act as the older brother. “There has been a level of maturity that came forth in Danny very quickly after Saki arrived,” she said.
In fact, his first full sentence was: “I am Saki’s dad.”
“Am! He said, ‘I am!’, not ‘me dad’ or ‘saki dad’,” Morgan remembered. It was in the kitchen, and the scene was seared into her memory. And after that, he made the effort to speak in full sentences.
His coordination improved dramatically as well — he had never been able to throw a ball straight, but now he was playing fetch with Saki every day.
They played together, napped together, and Danny was talking more and more. He would happily say “This is my puppy,” and Saki sure acted like it.
Fiddler realized soon enough where Saki was going every day, but when she saw what a great effect Saki had, she immediately agreed that Saki could come over every day.
“Saki went immediately to Danny. Wherever Danny was that was where Saki went,” Fiddler said. “And when the kids weren’t at home, she stayed at my house. She had one intention only, and that was to go to Danny.”
But after two months, Saki was meant to start her training and would leave so she could join the rescue organization.
Fiddler and Danny’s family had seen what a huge change Saki had brought about, and did not want the two to have to break their special bond.
Danny’s father — who previously never wanted a dog — said that watching the two of them, he couldn’t help it. “They just melted my heart,” he said. He called up the organization and put Danny on the phone, so he could plead his case.
The organization called Fiddler.
“I was told to not be so soft, and to look at it objectively — she had a great career ahead of her, we’re talking about one child versus God knows how many, and I took all this into consideration and said, ‘Just meet with him,'” Fiddler said.
She figured, if others could see for themselves what an impact Saki had on Danny, they would not be able to bear pulling them apart either. The foundation agreed, and some representatives came to meet Saki and Danny’s family.
Within minutes, they understood.
She had already rescued this little boy.
“Saki made it possible for him to realize his being,” Fiddler said, tearing up. They had both found purpose in each other.