ANCHORAGE, Alaska — For a Wasilla boy, suffering with symptoms of autism, it was a personal tragedy he could barely comprehend.
Just over a month ago, in late May, 8-year-old Wyatt Reinhart saw his beloved Service Dog "Abby" simply disappear from his backyard.
Wyatt had only had the English Bulldog for 9 months, and had become very attached to the animal. Wyatt's mother Judy says the dog was bringing him out of himself, and helping him cope with unfamiliar people and with unfamiliar surroundings.
Then, one day last month, was suddenly gone. Wyatt and his brothers had run inside, excited that they had caught a fish. When the excitement died down, the boys noticed a silence. They looked outside, and Abby was no longer there.
As a Medical Service Dog, Abby was trained not to wander from her owner. But as an 18-month-old puppy, she was susceptible to being picked-up by others. She was also very friendly.
The family immediately suspected Abby had been kidnapped. Service dogs can easily run $3000 or more.
And a neighbor said that a tan vehicle was seen leaving the Twilight Drive area at about the same time Abby disappeared.
For weeks the family offered a reward. First $500, then -- through a generous donation -- $3000.
But still, Abby never was never found or returned.
Then, last week, a horrifying turn of events.
Abby's body was found in a lake -- not far from the Reinhart's home.
The shaken family retrieved the animal's limp body and was driving to a crematoreum to dispose of Abby properly.
On the way to the crematorium Wyatt, who could not understand what had happened, broke his mother's heart.
With the dead dog laying in the car, and with the family driving somehwere to "take care of Abby" he innocently asked his mother, "Are they going to fix her?" Wyatt thought they were on a trip to try to make Abby better.
His devastated mom, Judy, had to try to explain to him that Abby is not going to be coming back.
It's still hard for Wyatt to understand.
Then, when the family was convinced that they had seen the very worst in human nature, a call came from a total stranger.
April Merchant runs a Service Dog Training School in Anchorage, a place called "Midnight Sun" Service Dogs.
Last week, April had just assisted in the rescue of a "Labra-Doodle" named "Jack". The dog was about to be destroyed by an owner who didn't want the animal. The owner planned to shoot Jack.
April's idea was to save Jack and help Wyatt, both at the same time.
After some friends of April's intervened to convince the owner to give-up Jack for adoption, April immediately set to work to put Jack in the hands of Wyatt -- whom she had heard about on Facebook.
Last Tuesday, she introduced the child to the dog. But she had to tell a disappointed Wyatt, he could not take Jack home. He still needed 8 weeks of training with the boy.
Jack couldn't fully understand and -- after an excited meeting -- went home sad.
He asked his mother if he'd ever see Jack again.
And Judy told him that yes, in a few weeks, Jack would -- indeed -- come home with the family.
"Good," Wyatt told his mother. "'Cause maybe now the happy will come back."
Judy was both moved and stunned by the wisdom of her son, who didn't say much, but apparently had deep feelings.
Then today (sunday) marked the first day that Wyatt visited South Anchorage to train with Wyatt.
Everyone was a bit nervous, exept for April -- who'd arranged the whole thing.
She now devotes her life to teaming-up war veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan -- who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress -- with Service Dogs because of their healing qualities.
April knows a thing or two about the unconditional love that dogs offer. She says that when she was suffering Post-Traumatic Stress (the result of a physically abusive domestic relationship) a new dog was the spur that gave her the courage to deal with her situation and get out of the relationship.
Now, she says, she's so grateful for the experience, that she wants to pay humanity back, "one paw at a time."
Today, as young Wyatt got reacquainted with Jack, he was a bit tentative.
His voice, as is the case with so many Autistic children, was flat and emotionless.
But as he gave small commands, to his furry new friend, you could hear the confidence and entusiasm gradually creep into his voice.
By the end of an hour, as boy and dog rough-housed together, the confidence turned to outright laughter.
"He tried to eat me!" Wyatt said, as he got up off the floor.
His mom, who had been dabbing her eyes -- as she watched her son re-engage with the world thanks to Jack -- laughed.
Tonight the family is planning to continue the training for the next 7 weeks -- until Wyatt can finally take Jack home.
But expenses are still difficult. It costs about $20 in gas to make the 100 mile round-trip each week.
A fund has been set-up to assist them.
People can contribute at any branch of Wells Fargo, or at the Online Site of the bank.
The name of the Account is "Wyatt's Service Dog" -- and it's Account Number 820-123-7396.