Just months after being left for dead, a dog is making a world of difference for a young boy with autism.

Last year, animal rescuers found an abused puppy on the side of a Georgia road, having nearly starved to death. They nursed her back to health, naming her Xena the Warrior Puppy. The amazing recovery won Xena fans worldwide on Facebook and her story helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for the care of abused animals.

But it may be Xena’s connection with her new owner that’s having the biggest impact. Now healthy, the dog was adopted by Jonny Hickey, who has autism, and his family. Once shy and withdrawn, Jonny’s family says Xena has brought him to life, inspiring him to make a video to promote April’s status as both Autism Awareness Month and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month.

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“My name is Jonny,” the boy says in a video that aired on WXIA-TV, the Atlanta NBC affiliate, “and this is my puppy, Xena. Well, my Xena was hurt really bad. By some not-so-nice people. And I have autism. So I think we make a pretty perfect team to spread the word to be nice to animals, and nice to kids like me.”

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