Autism assistance dog, Geneva, Ill.
Like the Star Wars character for which he was named, Chewbacca is big, hairy and very loyal—in this case to a 7-year-old suburban Chicago boy with autism named Giovanni. A 2-year-old goldendoodle, Chewie was bred and trained by the nonprofit organization 4 Paws for Ability in Xenia, Ohio. Children with autism may be prone to communication difficulty, emotional meltdowns and running away. A dog like Chewie can help. “Chewbacca has changed our lives in so many ways,” says mom Myrna Resendez. Since 2014, Chewie has helped Giovanni become comfortable making eye contact and speaking with people. He’s calmed him in uncomfortable situations and regularly accompanies him to school, quickly becoming her son’s “furry best friend.” “He has given me a sense of peace and hope,” she says. “I can finally sleep at night knowing my son will not leave the house anymore, and if he did, Chewie would find him.”