A 5-year-old boy with autism is missing his best friend after his family's black Labrador retriever disappeared from their Westchester home.
Mark Fontana cannot communicate through words, and Echo the dog provided the boy comfort and safety.
"She's not just a dog, she's critical for Mark's safety," said Emily Fontana. "Mark needs her desperately, the family needs her desperately."
When Echo disappeared last week, the loss devastated the family, who had waited a year to get her from a nonprofit. She ultimately arrived on Mark's birthday.
"There's something about Echo that has brought a calm and peace to Mark, and by extension, our whole family," Fontana said.
Mark and Echo were just beginning to establish a special bond. One night recently, said Fontana, she walked into Mark's bedroom to find him asleep in Echo's dog bed. Another time, Mark bolted for the pool and the highly trained Echo grounded him.
Echo was last seen Wednesday around 7 p.m., about a block from the Fontanas' home in Rye. The family has received phone calls and emails about other possible sightings of Echo, but she still hasn't come home.
A reward is now being offered for Echo's return. She doesn't bark and isn't the kind of dog that draws attention to herself, said Fontana.
The devastated mother says it's clear Echo's disappearance has affected her young son.
"Do I believe in my heart he knows Echo is gone? Absolutely," she said.