12/02/2009 at 10:33 AM EST
Homebound and unable to move about by himself safely, Sergeant Clay Rankin, a Gulf War and Iraq War veteran who suffered brain and spinal cord injuries in 2004, started looking for a service dog to help him. Through the help of Lori Stevens of Patriot PAWS, Rankin found Archie, an 8-year-old black Labrador retriever who now helps him everyday. "I started seeing that there's life after injury," Rankin says. "Archie's not a dog. He's much more than that."
The 2009 ASPCA Humane Awards luncheon at New York's Pierre Hotel on Thursday was a celebration of animals, like Archie, and people who help animals avoid hardship and animal cruelty.
Piano-playing sensation and Cat of the Year, Nora, stayed at home in Philadelphia because "she doesn't like to leave her studio," but her owners, as well as Dog of the Year Archie and many of the human honorees spoke before the 450 teary guests of the society.
Archie, who was in attendance Thursday, allows Rankin to move about without a scooter or wheelchair. In addition to his physical injuries, Rankin suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. Archie was not trained to help Rankin deal with his PTSD, but "it was an unintended benefit," says the war vet. Archie wakes Rankin from his nightmares, and he believes that the canine can smell the chemical changes occurring in his owner's body.
"When I start going into a flashback, he takes his nose and starts punching on my arm," Rankin says. "When I get real stressed out, he'll put his head on my lap and just loves me."
Other honorees included Kid of the Year, 11-year-old Monica Plumb, creator of PetMask.com
; Law Enforcement Officers of the Year Tim Rickey, Kyle Held, Sergeant Terry Mills and Sergeant Jeffrey Heath of Missouri, who organized a dog-fighting sting, making over 100 arrests and saving over 500 dogs; and Lifetime Achievement Award winner Richard O'Barry, who after spending decades capturing and training dolphins, has since devoted his life to untraining and releasing them from captivity.Click here to read their stories on the ASPCA Web site.