Today is the fourth anniversary of the Illini Service Dogs. It is quite a special day for us. As we reflect on our accomplishments, our founder would like to share more about the background of the Illini Service Dogs.
“It all started with a girl, a dog, and a dream…”
Bridget and Her first service dog, Coal.
Service dogs are often very expensive and organizations have extremely long waiting lists. I knew that I could benefit from a service dog, so my family got our first dog that I trained as my service dog. My first dog, Coal, was amazing. He taught me more than I taught him. Coal knew over 40 commands such as opening doors, retrieving objects, turning on and off lights, pulling me in my wheelchair, bracing when I walked or fell, and many other helpful skills. Coal attended high school, college, and even part of graduate school with me. I had to force him to retire at 12 years young or he would have happily kept working. I would like to share that even though he retired, he remained my family’s pet and guard dog against the ever-present squirrels in the backyard. When Coal retired, I was very blessed to have Hero as his successor. Hero attended graduate school with me and he is currently my partner in the working world. When we graduated with our Master’s degree, Hero wore a well-deserved cap and gown that can be seen pictured below.
Bridget and Her service dog, Hero at graduation.
My dear Coal passed away on March 7th, 2014 at 14.5 years old. I am still grieving from this significant loss. I’m sure that anyone that has loved a dog can appreciate the pain that I still feel every day.
I am so proud of Coal because his impact was larger than changing my life. Coal changed the world. Coal is the reason that the Illini Service Dogs exist today. After I trained Coal (or he trained me), I began training service dogs for other people with disabilities. I felt strongly from a very young age that people should not have to wait years for a service dog and they should not have to pay an exorbitant amount of money.
When Coal and I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I met many students that said, “I wish I could train service dogs.” With Coal by my side as the perfect example of a service dog, many people dreamt of being able to train a service dog for other people with disabilities. That’s when Coal and I started the Illini Service Dogs, which has college students foster and train service dogs to provide to people with physical disabilities at no cost to the individual.
The Illini Service Dogs
I’m fortunate to see Coal’s legacy live on every day through all of the Illini Service Dogs. Coal changed a campus, changed people’s lives, and changed the world by raising awareness of service dogs, disability culture, and inspired a new generation.
The Illini Service Dogs trains people to become advocates for people with disabilities. As well as learning how to train a service dog, our volunteers learn all of the laws and responsibilities that are associated with service dogs. They become advocates for the disability community and attend many wonderful events each year to raise awareness about service dogs.
In addition to attending college classes, each of our volunteers takes part in training a service dog. Each of our dogs are trained to know over 40 commends to assist people with physical disabilities. In addition, the dogs are well experienced in a variety of situations and environments. They attend college lectures, Big Ten and major sports games, movies, concerts, and they travel around the state experiencing different events at locations such as the St. Louis arch and the Bean in Chicago. By the time the dogs graduate from our organization, they are well prepared to handle life as a service dog.
How You Can Help
Our mission is to provide highly trained service dogs to people with disabilities at no cost. We rely solely on donations and we appreciate every donation that we receive. Training a service dog is very costly as we ensure that our dogs receive quality health care, dog food, and training supplies. You can support our mission by donating to the below links. We are a volunteer run organization and your total donation will go to support improving people’s lives.
We also offer sponsorship opportunities for individuals, families, and companies that may include naming privileges of a future service dog in training.
In addition to monetary donations, we are always appreciative of in-kind donations of the following items:
- Milkbone dog treats
- Kong toys
- Dog beds
- Medium/large dog crates
- Collars (S/M/L)
We greatly appreciate the support we have received from our family, friends, and fans. We couldn’t do it without you!
Thank you for believing in my dream.
Please contact us at email@example.com if you have any questions.