NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ An 11-year-old who suffered a near-fatal head injury two weeks ago put two words together for the first time since the accident, thanks to his dog, Rusty.

''Bad Rusty,'' Donny Tomei said Tuesday as the frisky chow-collie puppy leaped onto him while he sat in a recliner.

''This is really 'a boy and his dog story,''' said Dr. Charles Duncan, a neurosurgeon.

Donny, who also ate his first food Tuesday since the accident, was hit by a car Nov. 4 and was in a coma for several days. He hadn't reacted to anything until last Thursday when Rusty licked his face and the boy smiled.

Although he still doesn't respond to all commands, ''he clearly is not in a coma now,'' Duncan said.

Donny's condition began to improve markedly after his family got permission to bring his beloved dog to the hospital.

''Lots of people have known for a long time that after a head injury like this, patients tend to respond to their families, people they know well, far sooner than they do to the nurses and doctors talking care of them,'' Duncan said.

Half of the people with head injuries as severe as Donny's die, and only half of the survivors make meaningful recoveries, Duncan said. He said that Donny has a good chance for such a recovery, but it could take years.

''Now that you can see the progress it sure makes it a lot easier,'' said the boy's 23-year-old sister, Angela Manacchio.

The story of Donny and Rusty has brought an outpouring of sympathy.

Pet stores have offered such gifts as dog food and a lifetime's grooming for Rusty. Hundreds of cards and balloons and more than $3,000 in donations have arrived, and many people have sent pictures of their dogs.