CCI Dog Named ASPCA Dog of the Year

CCI Dog Named ASPCA Dog of the Year

 Cole and Ilia Canine Companions for Independence graduate, ten-year-old Cole 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, CCI Skilled Companion Ilia.

Ilia was recently crowned ASPCA Dog of the Year.

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. “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 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 Michelle. “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 Michelle. “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 Michelle, "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.

Cole and Ilia are also the stars of one of Canine Companions public service announcements.

The entire family attended the ASPCA Humane Awards Luncheon in New York City October 30, where Ilia was honored. Congrats Ilia!
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