A puppy that was once abandoned and left for dead has now been named “Dog of the Year” for changing the life of a boy with autism.

The pit bull who came to be known as Xena, the Warrior Puppy, was discovered in Georgia last year severely malnourished. A rescue group brought the pooch back to health before she was adopted by Jonny Hickey, 8, and his family.

Xena had an instant connection with Hickey, who has autism. Once closed-off, the dog helped the boy come out of his shell.

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“We have laughter in our home where it used to be silent before,” Hickey’s mother Linda Hickey told NBC News.

The story of Hickey and Xena — which they chronicle on Facebook — has been shared in 95 countries as the duo work to raise awareness of autism and encourage kindness to animals.

Now, Xena has been named “Dog of the Year” by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Hickey and his family traveled to New York last week with Xena in tow to accept the award.

“I just knew that out of all of the money that I spent on therapy, that (Xena) standing right there in my family room was the best therapy money could buy,” Linda Hickey said.

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