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Xena, The Warrior Dog

Xena wears a sign created by Linda Hickey to describe how the family feels about her. (Photo by Linda Hickey)

Xena, the Staffordshire Terrier mix, was rescued in DeKalb County, Georgia. The little puppy was severely malnourished and was taken to a local animal shelter. Although she weighed only 4 pounds and was on the verge of death, she was nursed back to health by her dedicated foster family. Her progress was also featured on Facebook as she fought to stay alive.

The little dog found her forever home with the Hickey family. According to Linda Hickey, the family bonded immediately with Xena, especially her autistic son Jonny. She says that her son went from being "painfully shy" to being an "outgoing chatterbox." "These two were destined to be together, to save each other at a level that humans just can't understand," she explained.

When Xena met Jonny, they fell in love with each other, but Linda was concerned about the breed as well as the possibility of the ongoing vet care that she might need. "It's very expensive to have a child with autism, and taking on the high costs for ongoing veterinary care could have been a strain." Fortunately, Xena's health outlook was good.

The Hickey's quietly brought Xena to their home for a trial period. When Linda brought Xena to pick up Jonny from school, the two bonded immediately. "When they met, it was just . . . kisses, and she sat on his lap, and he was smiling, it was so sweet." Once they got home Linda explains, "It was just all playful, and he's singing, and he's talking, and he's just non-stop chatter. It's just something you don't hear in my home." She says that Xena has become a true friend to Jonny. When once Jonny was quiet and kept to himself, now he is running, playing, talking, and singing.

As for the concern for the breed, Linda explains that, "As time went on, I could see the kind of temperament that she had and there was no worry. I do believe for sure that we are looking at the wrong end of the leash when we're looking at this whole issue with Pit Bulls. It's not the breed, it's the person holding the other end of the leash."

Because of her story of survival and great work with Jonny, Xena has been named the ASPCA Dog of the Year. The two are working together to spread the message of compassion for animals and for those with autism around the world.

Xena is also working to become a service dog and in recent months, has been visiting a little 12-year-old girl with cancer at a local children's hospital in Atlanta. She also visits with cellmates at an Atlanta jail who train homeless dogs through the Canine CellMates program.