Cole Massie is a Los Angeles teenager navigating all of the typical challenges of adolescence. On top of that, he has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. If Cole were socially awkward and lacked confidence, no one would blame him. Instead, he is extroverted, self-assured and ambitious. Perhaps Cole’s challenges have made him stronger. Or maybe he was just born with exceptional inner strength. Then again, his assistance dog may have something to do with it, too.
Cole was partnered with Canine Companions assistance dog Ilia in 2004 when he was just seven years old. The pair has grown up together, which may be why Cole refers to Ilia has his “best friend dog slash brother.” Ilia has been by Cole’s side – through surgeries, painful therapies, social struggles, and, well, everything. “I’ll never forget my first night with Ilia after I got him,” explains Cole. “He put his paws across my chest and I knew I had a new best friend.”
Soon after receiving Ilia, 8-year-old Cole was hospitalized for extensive medical tests. He had to be hooked up to monitors that made Cole’s skin itch ferociously. If this little boy dared scratch the itch it would mean that tests had to be repeated and the discomfort prolonged. Michelle, Cole’s mom, cleverly came up with an “Ilia to the rescue plan,” where Cole could scratch Ilia’s belly whenever his monitors itched. The plan worked and the testing was completed on schedule with no lasting trauma.
Today Cole says, “Usually life is okay, but sometimes it can be hard having a disability. You can’t participate like everyone else. If I didn’t have Ilia, I’d be pretty sad. Ilia is always there to make me feel better.” Plus, Ilia is helping Cole to prepare for life as an independent adult. “I’m learning to live by myself with an assistance dog because Ilia helps me practice that,” says Cole. “I drop a lot of stuff! If I didn’t have Ilia to retrieve things for me, I’d probably fall out of my chair trying to reach what I drop. Ilia makes me feel a lot safer. My dog rules!”