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– 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. When another student took off his hat and threw it across the room, Jordan became vulnerable and closed off the world, his mom said.

He didn’t want to be around people and wouldn’t go outside or to school, Radlick said. Jordan was so depressed that he wouldn’t leave his bedroom. He stopped being the “normally giggly, let’s-go-do-this kid.”

The panicked 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, Mich. Protz-Sanders thought she had the perfect dog for Jordan.

The Australian shepherd/lab mix had been neglected, crated 24 hours a day. He 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 in words the magnitude [of good] that Fred has done with my son. I really believe that, without the love and companionship of Fred, my son wouldn’t be where he is today.”

Radlick 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 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.

“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.”