In today's super-happy feel-good news, a five-year-old Rye, New York boy with autism was reunited with his service dog after a woman found the unmarked pooch and returned him nine days after he went missing. And when the two finally saw each other again yesterday, there was a lot of adorable hugging and slobbering.
Mark Fontana, 5, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder two years ago, and his parents say he is unable to communicate and is prone to running away. In September, after a year of waiting, the Fontanas received Echo, a 5-year-old Labrador retriever donated by non-profit organization Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Echo, who cost $45,000 to train, was Mark's constant companion. "She’s a safety feature ’cause she stops him from running away,”Paul Fontana, Mark's father, told WCBS this week. "She walks to school with him. We take her out when we go shopping or to the mall or to the beach or pool or anywhere. The idea is that she’s always with him.”
But a little over a week ago, Echo disappeared, leaving Mark and his parents despondent. The Fontanas, who believed Echo had been taken by someone in a car, offered a $1,000 reward to anyone who found the dog. And on Friday, a woman contacted the family to tell them she had Echo. "They said 'I think I might have your missing dog,' and my heart stopped," Mark's mother, Emily Fontana, told the Daily News.
The woman, who told the Fontanas she found Echo wandering around and gave her to her sister in the Bronx; after recognizing her from news reports, she reached out to the family to return her. Guiding Eyes used a microchip to confirm Echo's identity, and yesterday she was reunited with her young charge. "There's something about Echo that has brought a calm and peace to Mark, and by extension, our whole family," his mother told NBC New York, who captured some too-cute footage of the couple's slobbery, cuddly reunion.