Little boy with autism puts mom in tears when he meets his new service dog
After months of research and fundraising, her dream for her little boy finally came to fruition.

In 2016, Shanna Neihaus posted a photo that went viral. It doesn’t seem anything more than cute at first, but the story behind it is what made people reach for the tissues.

It shows Niehaus and son Kai on the floor with a service animal, the boy’s head rested on the dog’s body.

In foreign territory

The family was living abroad in Japan when 4-year-old Kai was diagnosed with autism. It exhibited, in part, as some “less than desirable” behavior issues, as well as resistance to touch, a rejection of social relationships, and easily-triggered sensory overload.

By age 5, the family knew it was time to return home to be near loved ones, but moving back to the States would prove expensive. Luckily, a successful fundraiser helped them put together $15,000 and upon their return, their lives changed forever.


Neihaus had reached out to contacted 4 Paws for Ability, an Ohio organization that places service dogs with disabled children and with deaf and disabled veterans.

There’s a long wait for these companion animals because of the rigorous training they need to go through – and not every dog makes the cut. They’re not cheap either.

But after 2 years, 4 Paws for Ability reached out to let the family know that Kai’s dog was been fully trained, and the family got ready to meet “Tornado.”

A whole new world

As you might imagine, it was an incredibly emotional moment for his mother. It was just one more situation beyond her control.

After all of her planning, all of the behavior she had seen, the future that she wanted for Kai, and how it became wrapped up in the success of this relationship with his new dog – how would it actually go?

Better than she could have ever imagined.

The payoff

In a heartfelt piece that served as a caption for the photo, Neihaus recounted Kai meeting Tornado for Love What Matters, saying:

“See this moment? I’ve never experienced a moment like this. Yesterday was the first day my 5-year-old autistic son met his new autism service dog, Tornado.”

It was clearly an emotional moment, and the relieved mom continued to describe just how much meaning lay in that one moment:

“This picture captures the face of a mother who saw her child, who she can’t hug, wash, dress, snuggle and touch freely, lay on his new service dog of his own free will, with a purposeful, unspoken attachment. This is the face of a mom who has seen her son experience countless failed social interactions on the playground in an attempt to have a friend…And now she is sitting behind her son silently watching this moment, with the air sucked from her lungs, and no words to say.”

She told USA Today:

“Kai, on his own accord, laid on Tornado and felt his heartbeat. He laid on top of him which is a sensory thing. I was so taken aback and I was so flooded, how real and how raw and the significance of this really overwhelmed me. I couldn’t believe what I had hoped would happen was actually happening.”

Happily ever after

Not only are Kai and Tornado still thriving years later, but Neihaus updates those who were touched by the photo on a Facebook page called “Kainado.”

The dog has brought out the best in Kai, and his mom couldn’t be happier for him.

“He’s wanted to give and share and receive from someone else, and Tornado was the avenue that unlocked it.”

Be sure to visit the Kainado page and scroll down below for just one example of how Tornado is helping Kai cope.

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By Jessica
Jessica is a contributor at SBLY Media.