Bobby Lumpkin would spend hours on the nature trail outside the 2nd Avenue Animal Hospital in Columbus with his dog Ozzy. They would share pork rinds and Vienna sausage.
"That's probably not the diet his doctor would have recommended," Lumpkin said.
Often, Lumpkin would walk from the Phenix City homeless shelter to be with his pet.
"I just had to be with my dog," he said.
When Lumpkin first realized he would not be able to keep his beloved Ozzy with him in a shelter, he was lost. That's when veterinarian Rene Lefranc came into the picture.
Lefranc offered to board Ozzy, a shepherd mix, for free.
Lefranc kept Ozzy for about seven months, providing food and medical attention at no charge. He said it gave Lumpkin time to find another place to live.
Lumpkin eventually got Ozzy back, but the dog died of bone cancer soon after. Lumpkin was devastated.
Again, Lefranc saved the day.
The veterinarian, who takes in stray animals, searched for a dog that would be a good match for Lumpkin. He found one, and a boxer mix named Macy became Lumpkin's new pet.
Lumpkin, 59, a Columbus native, found a way to pay Lefranc back. He nominated him online in the Pets Best Insurance "My Vet's the Best" contest. Recently, Lefranc was named as one of six national third quarter finalists. Others nominated come from Arizona, North Carolina, Idaho, Colorado and New York.
People have until Friday to go to facebook.com/PetsBestInsurance to vote for Lefranc.
Pets Best, a pet insurance provider, organized the contest in an effort to recognize veterinarians who go above and beyond while treating animals.
The winning pet owner gets $200 and the winning veterinarian $1,000. A grand prize winner will be chosen in 2013.
In his nomination, Lumpkin said, "I can say that for me and the animals he touches, he is a lifesaver. I will not use any other vet. This man is a saint."
Of hearing about the nomination, Lefranc said he was "honestly surprised and humbled."
He said it is an honor to help others and what he does is "out of love" and not for recognition.
Lefranc, who takes in stray animals, had let the Homeless Resource Network know his clinic would be willing to help in any way it could.
He said when he opened his practice some five years ago he and his wife, Angie, wanted to get involved in helping the community.
Lefranc said his successful business allowed him to do some of the charitable work he wants to do. "We've been blessed," he said.
Lumpkin now lives in a small camper in Smiths Station.
"I'm still technically homeless," he said. "What I have is not much."
He wasn't sure he was going to get another dog after Ozzy died, but Lefranc in
"You are a dog person," Lefranc told him. "You've got to have a dog."
Lumpkin agrees but not just because he likes to have a buddy.
Lumpkin, who found Lefranc through his Veterans Administration representative, said he served 16 years in the Navy, some of that during the Vietnam War. He suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. Since he left the service in 1985, it has been difficult for him to keep a job. A marriage failed.
He also has lived in a car.
"A dog keeps me centered, calm," he said. "It keeps me from hurting anybody."
He is grateful to Lefranc who "kept my dog in a safe place."
"I have never run into this kind of kindness from someone," Lumpkin said.