CHILLICOTHE, Ill. (WMBD) — An air force veteran is training and providing service dogs to veterans and first responders with PTSD.

In just five years, Freedom Paws Service Dogs in Chillicothe has connected 34 service dogs with veterans and first responders with PTSD. Service dogs are specially trained to meet their owner’s mobility and psychological needs.

“It’s a lot of work, it’s a lot of fun, it’s a lot of time, but on the flip side of that seeing veterans and first responders come in, and where they are before they come in, initially meeting them, and then seeing them at the end… it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done,” said Corey James, CEO and founder of Freedom Paws Service Dogs.

James said it takes about two years to train a service dog. Labradors and golden retrievers are the most common breed.

“The dogs we get are very smart. I think it takes us more time to learn how the dogs operate. The dogs are already smart, they know what they are doing,” he said.

James said he got the idea for Freedom Paws after it was suggested that he get a service dog after he retired from military service. The organization is run entirely by volunteers.

“Trainers are volunteers. Without them, honestly this wouldn’t be anything. There’s no way I could do this myself,” he said.

Once the dog is placed with a veteran or first responder, it’s their dog for the rest of the dog’s life. James said the positive impact on the recipients’ wellbeing is evident.

“That’s what keeps me motivated to keep doing this. When you can see them come in at the beginning and then you see them transform when they’re at the end – it’s like night and day,” he said.

James said demand is not slowing down any time soon. Nine dogs are training to be ready for adoption in early 2023.

“It’s the first time ever in Freedom Paws history that we’ve had a waiting list for a service dog. It’s good and bad, but at the same we’re going to be looking for more trainers so we can get more dogs to veterans and first responders,” he said.

James said they put on various fundraising events throughout the year. Freedom Paws is planning its first golf outing on June 12, 2023 at Arrowhead Country Club in Edelstein.

Freedom Paws is entirely donation-based and has an Amazon wish list.