Doing Good: Boy, dog friendship helps autism, animal rescue awareness

A young boy diagnosed with autism lead an extremely quiet life with little outside interaction. And then, Jonny Hickey created an unbreakable bond with a puppy who had a story of her own.

Xena was a puppy brought into Dekalb County Animal Services weighing only four pounds and was clinging to life. Her story was put on social media and as she was being nursed back to health, her fans dubbed her Xena the Warrior Puppy. Soon after, the Hickeys adopted her through Friends of DeKalb.

Instantly, Jonny transformed. Although limited, research reveals that children on the autism spectrum were more likely to talk, laugh and show other positive social behaviors in the presence of companion animals.

“It was an unbelievable change,” she said. “We wanted to share Jonny and Xena’s story and find a way to make a difference in our community.”

» MORE: Read our Personal Journey on Xena the Warrior Puppy and how she changed the lives of those who brought her back from the brink of death

The story inspired the Jonny and Xena’s Spread the Words Foundation to help support animals in need and to shine a light on autism. Through its work, Linda and Xena meet with civic organizations within the community and have partnered with Kid’s Creek Therapy in Suwanee to further educate, spread autism awareness and lend support to local families.

It also developed and has taken the Jonny and Xena’s “Spread the Words” program into schools to educate children on the humane treatment of animals and teach them how to “Become the Pawsibility” for autism awareness. Xena also visits local schools and offers love and support to the special needs students.

In addition, they work with local jails and youth correctional facilities to send a message of second chances and give support to the jail dog programs and the inmate handlers.

And just last year, the foundation held the first GEICO Jonny and Xena’s Spread the Words 5K/Fun Run at Suwanee Town Center, which raised $20,000 to help programs for autism and animal rescue programs.

The money raised will be used to enhance the autism and special needs classrooms at Roberts Elementary, Lambert High, Medlock Bridge Elementary and Centennial High. It will also help the animal rescue efforts of the Georgia SPCA, Friends of Dekalb Animals and Planned Pethood.

“After we adopted Xena, our world changed,” Linda said. “This Warrior Puppy who was found clinging to life, beat every single odd against her. She was not only destined to survive and help transform the life of one boy with autism, but I believe she was meant to continue her miracles through service within her community.”

In other news: Piedmont Atlanta Hospital donated 12 labor and delivery beds to the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation, an Atlanta-based nonprofit dedicated to improving the health, education and quality of life for the people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The organization plans to give the beds to the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital, a DRC-based hospital built by the foundation. Since opening in 2007, the hospital, named after the basketball star’s mother, has treated more than 140,000 locals.

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Who’s doing good?Each Tuesday, we write about charity events such as fun-runs, volunteer projects and other community gatherings that benefit a good cause. To suggest an event for us to cover, contact Devika Rao at doing.goodAJC@gmail.com

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