New puppy joins Illini Service Dogs team

Huff%2C+a+black+labrador+mix%2C+chews+on+a+toy+as+he+waits+for+his+training+to+resume+at+the+Khan+Annex+%28Huff+Hall%29+on+Tuesday%2C+March+10%2C+2015.

Huff, a black labrador mix, chews on a toy as he waits for his training to resume at the Khan Annex (Huff Hall) on Tuesday, March 10, 2015.

By Michelle Redondo

Big, brown puppy dog eyes are no match for the Illini Service Dogs team. The puppies with mischievous and playful glares will transform into patient and well-trained dogs who are given the opportunity to help another person.

Started as a project by Bridget Evans in 2010 when she attended the University, Illini Service Dogs has since grown into a Registered Student Organization that serves the disabled community. Last Quad Day, it received over 800 signatures and 200 applications, but only 65 were chosen to be a part of the team.

Because of this growing attention, the organization received a new puppy, Huff, a black Labrador mix, in late December. 

Huff was rescued by Great Lakes Lab Rescue and given to Turning Point Labradors, a central Illinois breeder, until they could find a home for him.

Illini Service Dogs receives puppies from breeders, rescue shelters or community members. 

“It’s hard to tell with puppies if they’re exactly what we’re looking for, but we do look for personality and motivation right away,” said Kendall Cox, senior in Engineering and president of Illini Service Dogs. “Huff is a good one.”

Before puppies like Huff are placed with a person in need, they are trained for up to two years. Each dog has a primary trainer that lives and trains with them and a secondary trainer to help them a few hours a week.

While Huff is only five months old, his trainers said he has made rapid progress. During training sessions, he is close to mastering the basics and his secondary trainer, Brenden Horwitz, junior in ACES, has been working with him on “touching.” Touching is a skill service dogs learn to push handicapped plates that open doors.

“Patience, loyalty and being able to adapt to a lot of situations are essential (skills),” Horwitz said. “They need to be able to continue being a service dog and doing their job even in public and large groups of people.”

The foundation of each trainers’ job is to fundraise, since the dogs are given for free. Cox explained that without money, there would be no dogs. 

“We need money to take care of the dogs. We are dog trainers, and we are also advocates for the disability culture,” Cox said. 

As a part of its fundraising programs, the organization partners with Shi-Ai, a group promoting inter-sorority bonds and community service.

Every semester, Shi-Ai raises money for Illini Service Dogs by hosting “Pet-A-Pup for a Buck.” Shi-Ai’s President Jayne Chorpash, sophomore in LAS and Business, said all the proceeds go toward Illini Service Dogs.

“It has always been a joy working with Illini Service Dogs,” Chorpash said. “We love to be able to benefit their organization.”

The service dogs also have play dates with their fellow service dogs every Sunday after group training. 

Although a puppy, Huff interacts very well with the others, including Grainger, the eldest. 

“We like to say the dogs are best friends with each other,” Cox said. “This weekend we had a few of them playing, and Grainger had the tennis ball running around, and the younger ones were all chasing him.”

The organiztion is rewarding not only for puppies but people too.

“I love this because it gives me the opportunity to help someone, and it’s cool because the dogs enjoy helping others, too,” Horwitz said.

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@michelle_dondo