Two puppies recruited as Illini Service Dogs

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Two puppies recruited as Illini Service Dogs

Submitted by Bridget Evans

Submitted by Bridget Evans

Submitted by Bridget Evans

By Taylor Wegner, Staff Writer

The Illini Service Dogs recently welcomed two new additions to its team. The puppies, both of which are ten week old Labrador Retrievers, are named Alma and Newman.

These puppies will undergo a 1.5-to-2-year training period in which they will learn over 50 commands, including turning on and off lights, opening doors, picking up objects, helping someone walk and pulling wheelchairs, in order to assist people with disabilities.

They also learn etiquette and manners for various environments in order to effectively accompany their handlers to places such as college lectures, movie theaters and sporting events. 

“The Illini Service Dogs started with a girl, a dog and a dream,” said Bridget Evans, CEO. “When I was a student at the U of I, I proposed the idea of having college students foster and train service dogs for people with physical disabilities.”

Founded in 2010, The Illini Service Dogs was the first group in the United States to provide college students with the opportunity to train mobility service dogs. These crucial services are available at no cost, thanks to fundraising donations and dedicated volunteers.

“We believe that through community education, advocating for disability rights and providing service dogs 100 percent free of charge, we are making the world a better place,” Evans said.

Evans was inspired to start this organization through her own experience. After spending years on various waiting lists for service dog organizations, she decided to train her own service dog, named Coal.

“By the time I went to college, I had helped train over 20 service dogs and I realized that I needed more people to be engaged,” Evans said. “I found myself surrounded by people that wanted to help. Last year, we had over 1,700 people sign up on Quad Day to help train service dogs for people with disabilities.”

Alma and Newman are just the newest dogs to help make this mission a reality. They were acquired through a donation by the Lindeen family and Lisa Huizenga, the dogs’ Colorado based breeder, in memory of two University alumni.

“It was through the generous support of the Lindeen family that we were able to add these smart puppies into our training program,” Evans added.

For those eager to meet these two puppies, Alma and Newman will be in attendance at the Illini Service Dogs booth during Quad Day on August 27, alongside the other service dogs in training.

The puppies will also participate in the “Pet-a-Pup” event that takes place at the start of the fall semester, and will stay around campus as they learn their new skills.

When seeing the Illini Service Dogs in training around campus, always remember to ask their handler for permission, said Evans.

“They’ll let the dogs greet new friends,” she added.

The Illini Service Dogs are active on social media, as well. Their training progress, along with opportunities to interact with them, can be tracked on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.

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