Last week we had the great pleasure of meeting the amazing service dogs at Paws Giving Independence in Peoria, Illinois. We wanted to start collecting donations to sponsor some of their dogs, and to get the fundraising ball rolling we paid them a visit. This week we’ll share a little about PGI’s mission, and next week we’ll share the stories of the kids and adults who are being touched and inspired by these selfless dogs.
Donna Kosner, founder of Paws Giving Independence, got her start training dogs in the suburbs of Chicago. Working with the West Suburban Humane Society in Downers Grove, she and her daughter Michelle would rescue dogs with the potential to do service work, and give the dogs at no cost to disabled kids and adults. When Michelle started college at Bradley, they moved to Peoria bringing their combined training experience and their service dog mission to central Illinois, and Paws Giving Independence began a new chapter in volunteerism.
Working in a large space donated by Heartland Dog Training, the service dogs, dog trainers, and disabled individuals meet every Tuesday to work on commands, socialization, and most importantly, getting to know one another. Not every dog is right for every person. Besides practical considerations such as allergies (PGI trains donated poodles as needed), size, and abilities of both dog and human, temperaments and personalities have to jibe too. Once a dog and people match is made, the dog leaves its host trainer and goes home with its new family. Even the old pros need practice, however, and dogs homed over a year ago still come to training nights with their folks.
Michelle and her fellow Bradley graduate Brandy gather the first class (the advanced dogs) for a photo shoot, then the girls, host trainers, and dog owners take off for a warm up lap. The dogs then lie down across the room from their people, and are tempted with treats and activities. They lie still. One ventures toward a bouncing ball, and immediately returns to his spot on command, “Lie down!” These are some professional dogs! Training continues with picking up objects from the floor, running through a fabric tunnel, and practicing with the light switches and door tugs.
Watching all these specially equipped dogs and disabled people working together in this huge space, we got to wondering: what’s the bottom line? That is, how much does it really cost to train a service dog? The answer was surprising. Between $1,000 and $1,200 is enough to train a PGI dog. The organization is unique in its use of rescued dogs, which significantly reduces the price of producing a top notch service dog. (Other organizations will charge upwards of $10,000 for a dog.) Mixes and mutts are more likely to have people-attuned temperaments, and the girls can select the healthiest, most willing dogs from the shelters, who will be glad to go home with a trainer. Not only is the shelter-to-service model inexpensive, but it is also more humane than breeding specifically for service dogs. Some organizations that use specific pure breeds may only be able to use one or two dogs out of each litter. The rest of the puppies are left in need of a home. With the exception of poodles (which are donated from a local breeder and only used in cases of severe allergies), PGI trains only dogs from shelters who have shown promise, and who are already beyond puppy age, and therefore less likely to be adopted. By operating in donated space, with an all volunteer staff, and with food provided by the host trainers, PGI is able to give every dog away free of charge. This is an excellent achievement.
We have started a fundraising campaign to sponsor three PGI dogs for Christmas, at $100 each. Please click below to be taken to the PGI Paypal donation site.
Next week we’ll share some of the bios and photos of Paws Giving Independence’s dogs and people.