Top dogs (and 3 cats) get their due

The best of the service pets and therapy animals over the past 15 years were honored at the 21st annual conference of the Delta Society in May in Seattle. They were greeted by applause, and some barking, as they accepted their "Beyond Limits" awards. Here are some of them:

Brenda Moxley, born with cerebral palsy, said that the day she got her golden retriever, Farley, her life began. Moxley of Canton, Ohio, said she spent most of her childhood scared and introverted. As an adult, she got a service dog who helped her walk, unload the groceries, fetch the phone and help with the laundry. "He harnessed me in love," she said. "Farley is my heart and soul. He's why I'm here today."

Mark Carnevale, paralyzed from a fall, said he was trained to drive a special van but was terrified of dropping his keys. When a therapist attached his keys to a stick, he was scared of dropping the stick. But after his Australian shepherd, Luna, finished training as a service pet, Carnevale was able to throw out the stick and feel independent. "That's the closest thing to a cure for a disability," he said of his dog.

Amy Fristoe, a special-education teacher, brings her Labradors - Brooksie Jo and Ashleigh Rose - to her class at Moore Elementary in Fort Collins, Colo. The dogs are part of the learning process in spelling, reading and recycling. Sometimes the dogs just sit there in funny hats as companions. One father wrote that his autistic daughter, who found it difficult to bond with anyone but her mother, has learned to accept touching after being around the dogs.

Hector Castaner said he had to retire as a social worker because of a spinal-cord injury so he put his time into training his three cats as therapy pets. The cats - Buster, Flashback and Flame - walk on a leash, ride in a car and even go surfing. The cats visit children's shelters and a children's hospital, nursing homes and schools. In 1994, Castaner sent the Clintons a video of his pets, "Three Cats from Miami," and the former first lady was inspired to take her cat, Socks, to visit a children's hospital.

- Bobbi Nodell