Paws Giving Independence: Meet the Service Dogs and the People Who Love Them

Max and Dave, with Max's Trainer

A couple weeks back we blogged about Paws Giving Independence, a Peoria Illinois service dog training organization that heroically gives training to rescued dogs and donates the trained service dogs at no cost to patients in need.  We thought you might like to meet some of the dog and people faces of PGI, to see just what a great job they are doing to truly help give independence to disabled people of all ages from all over Illinois.

Max and Dave

Dave works at Wal-Mart, and after heart surgery last year he awakened with severe sight loss.  He returned to work and tried to adapt, but eventually tired of having to ask for help to do a job he knew he could do on his own.  When Dave and PGI found one another through Max’s trainer, they knew they had a match!  Max is a Great Dane mix, and quite tall for a service dog.  Just what 6 foot Dave needed to help him find his way around the aisles without fear of putting too much weight on the dog or losing his balance to reach for a handle.  Dave and Max are always together now that Max has finished his training, and Max even caused Wal-Mart headquarters to put out a memo to all stores telling them they must allow employees and customers to bring service dogs into the building.  Way to go Max!

Jack and Drew

Jack and Drew

Jack and Drew are PGI veterans.  Jack, a standard poodle, was donated by a breeder when PGI needed a dog that could live in Drew’s home where family members have severe dog allergies.  Drew is confined to a wheelchair and has limited movement of his hands and head.  Jack is his constant companion even in the halls of the junior high school, where he helps Drew by picking up dropped pencils and opening classroom doors, among other amazing doggy feats.  With Jack, Drew can go to school without an aide and without feeling quite so out of place.  Almost everyone loves a dog, and for a boy in a wheelchair a beauty like Jack provides Drew with great social interaction with his peers.  All PGI dogs are trained with a “visit” command that lets them be essentially off duty for as few minutes, in order to help give their companions much needed attention from friends at school.  Once the other kids talk to Drew, they see he’s not so different.  He’s just a regular kid with a really great dog!

Mugs and AJ

Mugs and AJ work on the light switch, with help from Mom.

Mugs has been with AJ over a year, and they’ve made it through thick and thin together.  After PGI donated the dog, he needed surgery.  Once a dog has been donated vet bills are, by agreement, the owner’s responsibility.  However, PGI stepped up and raised money for Mug’s surgery with an all-volunteer fundraiser.

Mugs and AJ have faced their share of adversity when it comes to acceptance of service dogs in public places.  They have been kicked out of a restaurant, and were nearly forced to seek legal help when AJ’s public middle school would not allow the dog in the building.  Another local school heard of AJ and Mug’s predicament, and welcomed them with open arms.  Rather than fight the offending middle school, AJ chose to go to the school that really wanted him there!  He remembers it was embarrassing at first, because the school officials made a big deal out of it.  They were so proud to have Mugs on campus they had AJ, a sixth grader, get up and speak in front of the whole school!  Embarrassments aside, Mugs and AJ are glad to have a safe and welcoming place to learn and to meet people.

One of the closest dog-and-person couples PGI has seen, Mugs can even sense when AJ’s blood sugar is dropping, and nudges him to get help.

Adam and Chester

Rookie Dogs and their Potential Matches

The three pairs we just shared with you are examples of how wonderful a relationship between service dog and a disabled person can be, if care is taken to make sure they are the right match.  PGI doesn’t just choose a dog based on size or ability, but personality as well.  The patient and the dog have to get along outside of the training facility, in the home, at work or school, and in new situations that might be stressful to both of them.  It takes time and patience to determine if a dog will make the best companion.  Mia and Freedom, a black German Shepherd, are in the initial stages of working together.  Mia has seizures that sometimes happen while she is standing or seated, and people are often unaware that she needs medical help.  She has even had the police called on her by mall security who thought she was on drugs!  As a high school senior, she would like more independence from her parents.  With Freedom’s help, she truly could have the freedom to go out alone.  Chester, a black Lab, is another trainee who has been helping Adam, a senior at Western Illinois University.  When Adam graduates he plans to take Chester to the office with him.  They are practicing different situations with Chester in hopes that he will continue to be a big help in the workplace.

A Paws Giving Independence Fundraiser for the Holidays

Dog Collar Boutique is out to raise $300 by this Christmas, which is enough to sponsor three service dogs for the year.  As we meet each $100 goal we will share another story of the dog we’ve sponsored.  PGI is an amazing organization that needs help from generous dog lovers and concerned citizens as well as volunteer hours in order to keep providing the disabled community with indispensable and cost-free access to service dogs. Please read our earlier post about their training costs and service mission, and click on the thermometer at right to donate.  Help give the gift of independence!

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