Service Golden/Lab Ilia Massie ASPCA Dog of the Year! — Update

The video below was created for the Canine Companions for Independence gala on October 27, 2007 to show what could not be expressed with words. It features Service Dog Team, Cole and Ilia Massie. Ilia is one handsome and smart dude, the best offered through his Golden Retriever-Lab breeding. In fact, he has just received ASPCA’s 2008 Humane Dog of the Year Award.

In LA, you will never see Cole without his furry sidekick. In order to break away from being wheelchair-dependent, Cole underwent surgery in July 2008 so he would be able to walk again without assistance. Ilia travelled over 7,000 miles on six planes to be by Cole’s side for surgery. He supported Cole through medical treatments and physical therapy, and he encouraged the boy throughout his road to recovery. These days, Cole is able to use his whole foot, and Ilia is still by his side, walking alongside him.

I just discovered some new info since I originally published this over a week ago.

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 dogs 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!”