Rescue dogs track down missing autistic boy

Leads family to adopt shelter pet as companion for Hahnville boy

Joshua Magee of Hahnville and his new best friend Yellow the dog have both required a form of rescue. But the friendship the two have formed may ensure that neither will need it again.

In March, Chiquita Magee called upon police assistance to help locate 13-year-old Joshua, her son who was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the age of 7.Joshua had gone to bed that night at 10:30 p.m., but an hour later, his bed was discovered empty, the boy nowhere to be found.

“I was at work and my daughter was watching him,” Chiquita said. “We keep the doors locked, but he found the keys that particular day. She couldn’t find him and called me. I came home and I couldn’t find him.

“Most of time I’m able to find him,” she added, noting Joshua had gone missing on other occasions. “A few times I’ve had to call the police to help me find him. Josh is a very fast walker. He tracks a lot of ground.”

According to Detective Holly Laurent, there was an added sense of urgency, in part, given the night’s conditions. “It was getting really late and kind of cool outside,” Laurent said. “I knew he only had on pajamas, Crocs and a little muscle shirt, so I knew he’d be cold. The mosquitoes were going to be out, too. So, time was of the essence (and) we had to do more than just look around on foot.”

At that point, Laurent got dispatch to contact the Sheriff’s Office canine division, and the dogs were able to track Joshua.

Lt. Jason Guidry, who oversees the canine unit, said there was concern that Joshua could get lost in the swamp in the wooden area behind his home.

Joshua’s mother shared that concern, and then some.

“It was terrifying,” she said. “I was scared. There are alligators back there … I couldn’t stop thinking of all the wildlife (he could come across).”

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Joshua was found on the side of River Road in front of Avalon Place.

“From the experience we had meeting with his mother, we understood he was not a kid that you would approach directly,” said Sgt. Clint Patterson. “He was probably cold and scared. He called for us to bring mother over there. We brought his mom to the scene.”

Lending an assist was Freckles the tracking dog, who police introduced to Joshua and whom set the boy at ease.

“We rescued Freckles out of the pound,” Guidry said. “He does all of our school demonstrations and he’s really good with the kids. Freckles, where our patrol dogs actually track, Freckles will get out, run around and pick up a scent. If he locates the kid, he’ll stay with him.”

So Joshua returned home, and that in and of itself would provide a happy ending to his story. But officers noticed how well Joshua responded to Freckles, and the thought that a full-time pet could have a long term positive influence upon him was explored.

“He was shielded, maybe guarded a little bit, but at end he was petting the dog,” Patterson said. “Joshua was very excited (about the idea he may receive a pet).”

Guidry met with the staff at the St. Charles Parish Animal Shelter, which has experience in training and matching special children with special pets. Together, they evaluated dogs that might be compatible.

Eventually, they found the perfect pet: a Labrador mix and rescue dog named Yellow.

“When Yellow approaches you, he almost cowers down,” Guidry said. “It’s not a cower as if he’s scared, but when he approaches someone new, he actually goes down on his front feet and kind of crawls to you. And until you go down and pet him, he stays down, which worked out perfectly for Joshua. Because when he got down to Joshua’s feet, (Joshua) kind of stood there and looked at him and started talking to him, then he reached down and pet him. Once the dog got comfortable with him, he sat up.

“They seemed to hit it off right away.”

Chiquita admitted it was a bit of an adjustment at first once Yellow went home with the family, but it didn’t take long for the lab to indeed become family. She said Yellow has been an amazing addition to their home: Joshua has shown great improvement in multiple areas, showing more interest in his activities and opening up more to those around him.

“Oh my gosh, (Yellow brings) so much comfort and relief,” she said. “I know he’s a pet, but he’s so much more for us. Joshua can go outside and if Yellow’s there, I know he’ll be okay and know where he can go. Yellow helps him cope with life. He looks after him.”

 

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