The rescue dog rescued the boy.
"When they locked eyes, I knew. It was just unbreakable."
Cheri Radlick's voice cracked as she shared the story of her son, Jordan, and his dog, Fred.
Jordan, a 12-year-old seventh-grader, has alopecia and no hair, eyebrows or eyelashes. In elementary school, he had friends and sleepovers and participated in sports, his mother said.
But when he got to middle school last year, everything changed.
He was bullied, and when another student took off his hat and threw it across the room, Radlick said, Jordan became vulnerable and closed off the world.
She said he didn't want to be around people and wouldn't go outside or to school. Jordan was so depressed, she said, he wouldn't leave his bedroom. He stopped being the "normally giggly, let's-go-do-this kid."
The panicked Waterford mother was at her wits' end trying to help her son. She pulled him out of public school and enrolled him in an online school. She took him to therapy. A doctor recommended getting an animal.
That's where Fred came in.
Radlick talked with Courtney Protz-Sanders, executive director of Paws For Life in Troy. Protz-Sanders thought she had the perfect dog for Jordan.
The Australian shepherd/lab mix had been neglected, crated 24 hours a day and had a skin condition and other medical problems and nails so overgrown they were curled under, Radlick said.
"I can tell you from the minute Jordan got out of the car and he saw Fred, it was love at first sight," Radlick said of her son and the now 4-year-old, 90-pound pooch that sleeps with Jordan and goes everywhere possible with him. "Fred has changed Jordan's life so much."
Jordan nursed Fred, including helping with leg exercises. Now Fred is returning the love he was shown. And he's helping Jordan live again.
Jordan goes outside with Fred and throws the ball. He's thinking about joining a golf league, his mother said, and he said he may be ready to have friends again.
Radlick said Fred's arrival allowed her to avoid giving her son antidepressants at the young age of 11.
"He's everything I've hoped for and more," she said of Fred. "I don't know how I can even express into words the magnitude that Fred has done with my son. I really believe that without the love and companionship of Fred, that my son wouldn't be where he is today."
"I owe Paws For Life my son back," she said. "My son was rescued by a rescue dog."
"I think they rescued each other," Protz-Sanders said. "They were exactly what each other needed ... I think in Jordan's case, this was truly life-changing."
Radlick's shared her family's story, winning a $25,000 grant for Paws For Life from the Petco Foundation. Her story and three others from Michigan — including one from Sydnee Thompson of Troy and two cats she adopted from the Ferndale Cat Shelter — were among the winners in a national contest sponsored by the pet supply company, with $85,000 in total grants going to four animal groups in the state.
"It's affirming. It gives you something to look forward to," Thompson, 26, said of her cats, Luca and Rocco, who she has had just over one year. "How you're able to make a loving, healthy home ... It's a sign of accomplishment, a lot of positive emotions that positively impact on me personally and how I'm able to deal with my chronic illnesses."
Thompson, who has had depression and chronic pain, said her cats and their two siblings were born to a cat that pretty much lived outdoors and left her weeks-old kittens, possibly because she was attacked by another animal or hit by a vehicle.
Thompson, who had lost her dog a year earlier, was browsing the Ferndale Cat Shelter website, not really looking to adopt, but then saw a picture of Luca and fell in love with him and his litter mates.
"My heart was just fit to bursting," she said.
Thompson planned to adopt two of the other kittens, but she said that one died from an underlying heart condition and there were concerns the other one had a different type of medical condition. So Thompson adopted Luca and Rocco, two brothers, who provide unconditional love, cuddling and motivation, especially on Thompson's difficult days.
"Having pets fosters that need for empathy and compassion," she said. "Dealing with the most difficult symptoms of depression, if something happens to you, your cats would care."
Sydnee Thompson of Troy and two cats she adopted from the Ferndale Cat Shelter. The story was shared and won a $10,000 grant for Ferndale Cat Shelter from the Petco Foundation. (Photo: Sydnee Thompson)
Thompson's story won the Ferndale Cat Shelter a $10,000 grant, which will help cover veterinary bills for injured felines — with the amount alone possibly providing vaccinations, spay or neuter and microchips for approximately 75 cats and kittens, said Patty McCormick, director of operations.
She said the shelter has adopted out 418 cats and kittens so far this year, nearly a dozen more than last year.
"We're overjoyed, couldn't be happier," she said. "The more cats and kittens we can help and find homes for, it's a great service to the community."
Protz-Sanders said Paws For Life may split its $25,000 grant in several ways — helping to pay for about $10,000 in medical bills for a rescued animal that was struck by a car; spaying and neutering dogs and cats, and putting some money toward a $1.2-million capital campaign to build its own shelter.
This is the second time the group has won a Petco Foundation grant, receiving a $12,000 grant for a story submitted last year, she said.
In addition, $25,000 grants were each given to Crash's Landing and Big Sid's Sanctuary in Grand Rapids and the Upper Peninsula Animal Welfare Shelter in Negaunee.
Protz-Sanders said the stories "enhance my belief that animals can change your world if you really give them a chance."
Contact Christina Hall: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @challreporter.
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