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Ex-Shelter Dog Discovers Her Special Purpose
A search and rescue pup to be finds her calling in a different place.
German Shepherd mix Saki's story was already an incredible one. She was found wandering the streets of Sacramento, California, but ended up being chosen as a potential search and rescue dog. Saki was waiting to begin a six-month training program with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation when she discovered a different calling.

One day Saki escaped from her foster family's home and went to visit their neighbors. Across the street lived Danny, a five-year old boy diagnosed with developmental delays. Danny was behind in his motor skills and could only speak in fragmented sentences. The Morgan family had adopted Danny despite the extra challenges and showered him and his siblings with everything they wanted--except a pet. The parents weren't dog people and didn't think the kids were ready for the responsibility.

So when Saki showed up at their door, Danny's mother, Dixie, didn't know what to expect. But it turned out to be a day she'd never forget. The kids were scared at first, but Danny went up to Saki and hugged the pup. Danny's sister recalls Saki had an immediate effect on her brother. "He turned into a different person," she says. Danny took Saki's head in his hands, looked her in the eye, and talked to her.

Saki's foster family began bringing Saki over for regular visits, and she would always seek Danny out. Soon the boy began making huge leaps in his development. About a week after Saki first came over, Dixie remembers Danny was standing in the kitchen and said, with a stutter, "I am Saki's dad." Dixie was floored. It was the first of many advances in his language and motor skills. Soon Danny began talking in full sentences. Previously he couldn't throw a ball straight, but he quickly learned how to play fetch with Saki. Even potty training, which they had been struggling with, came along too.

"When one has confidence a lot of things come together," says Dixie. "As teachers we know that learning takes place most easily and most effectively when there's a high level of emotional involvement. I believe that Danny was very involved with Saki, which contributed to the development of his motor skills and speech. Now his stages of development are most closer to a normal five year old."

Dixie knew that Saki had to stay, but the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation was reluctant to let the dog go. After all, volunteers often test 40-50 pups before choosing one for their program. However, once representatives from the organization came to visit, they knew Saki's place was with Danny.

It's amazing the effect our dogs can have on us, in ways that we can't explain.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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