Meet the 2008 ASPCA Dog of the Year Ten-year-old Cole Massie of Los Angeles, CA, may live with cerebral palsy, but he has all the support a kid could want, thanks to a very special black Lab/golden retriever mix named Ilia.
Recently crowned ASPCA Dog of the Year as part of the 2008 Humane Awards program, Ilia performs service duties like bringing items to Cole in his wheelchair and opening and closing doors. But the pooch also has that special healing touch that can’t be taught. “He provides amazing incentive to Cole during therapies, doctor’s appointments and procedures,” says Cole’s mom, Michelle Massie. “He calms, inspires and motivates my son far better than anyone ever has.”
Or, as Cole sums it up: “I like when he lies next to me in bed at night and we listen to Harry Potter on CD, and that he helps to clean me when I’m in the bath by licking my face and arms. He’s my furry brother and best friend—and a serious bed hog!
This past July, three years after boy and dog were paired by the nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence, Cole was faced with a difficult, but life-changing surgery. “He had walked on his toes, and his feet were totally rolled in,” says Massie. “The operation would allow him to use his feet and free him of the wheelchair.” “Cole was frightened by the idea of surgery at first,” remembers Massie. “We explained how much more independent he’d be afterward, but he wasn’t buying it. Finally, we told him that if he had this procedure, there was a very good chance he’d be able to walk Ilia on his own—with no parents and no walker.” After that, says Massie,
“Cole would stroke the dog’s head in bed each night and whisper, ‘I will walk you, Ilia. I will walk you.’” After much coaxing, Cole underwent the surgery in Summit, NJ, and Ilia traveled more than 7,000 miles to be by the boy’s side.
The ten-year-old is now on his way to becoming an independent walker—and his dedicated service dog will be with him every step. The entire family will attend the ASPCA Humane Awards Luncheon in New York City this October 30, where Ilia will be honored along with seven other extraordinary animals and people.
P.S. We’d like to remind you, pet lovers, that even heroes have their quirks. As Massie reveals, “Ilia knows 46 commands, but he won’t fetch!”