Nightly News   |  November 24, 2013

Unlikely bond saves boy and dog

When Xena was rescued, she only had a 1 percent chance of survival. Not only has the dog beaten those odds, but she also has helped an 8-year-old autistic boy find his voice. NBC’s Jill Rappaport reports.

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>>> finally, the family dog that's making a difference in the life of a young boy with autism. with a bond they have formed, 8-year-old johnny has been able to make remarkable progress and his dog has been honored with an award at a special ceremony. now latest on the story we first told but back in april.

>> reporter: it is hard to believe just over a year ago this vibrant pup was found by rescue workers and given less than a 1% chance to survive. and now xena the warrior puppy, as she is affectionately known around the world was just named the aspca's dog of the year. a title given to animal that have made an extraordinary difference in people's lives.

>> we have laughter in our home where it used to be silent before.

>> reporter: they will never forget day they adopted xena and brought her home. what transpired next she calls a true miracle. the immediate and incredible bond between xena and her 8-year-old son johnny who has autism.

>> i just knew that out of all the money that i spent on therapy, that she is standing right there in my family room , was the best therapy money could buy.

>> reporter: once closed off and isolated, johnny is much more engaged and so happy to have his best friend by his side. 8 months ago, johnny wonderful even touch food. now he hems prepare xena 's daily meals. on this day, another milestone. johnny gave his first interview.

>> how are you? can i have a hug? you're in new york city ! how great is that?

>> hi!

>> reporter: the story has now been shared in 95 countries. and together, they're spreading the words about autism awareness and kindness to animals.

>> from saved to savior, who rescued who? it almost seemed like words aren't enough.

>> reporter: the journey has been unbelievable. it is overwhelming. it's definitely an overwhelming emotional ride. jill rappaport, nbc news, new york.