PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A local volunteer organization is celebrating 15 years of pairing service animals with central Illinoisans.

Training facilitator assisted, mobility, and facility service dogs. It’s the mission of Paws Giving Independence.

The nonprofit is dedicated to supporting and encouraging independence for people with varying disabilities.

“The dogs train for about two years before we place them,” said Donna Kosner, Co-founder of Paws Giving Independence. “Then the recipients come in and work with either one dog, or sometimes more than one dog… and to see them go on and be able to actually do things they were able to do… to give the caregiver some more peace of mind.”

Trainers work on certain Tuesdays at Heartland Dog Training Center off of Galena Road in Peoria. Some Bradley and Illinois State college students double as trainers.

“We have student training on both campuses and then the dogs go to the Logan Correctional Center for some of their specialized skill training,” said Kosner.

The nonprofit recently received two golden doodle puppies from the family of local breeder Miriam Schmid. Schmid recently died in a weekend crash in Peoria.

“We’re going to be training them in her honor,” said Kosner. “I told [Miriam’s husband] that the kids can come to class and visit with the puppies so we’re hoping that it will kind of in tribute to her because it was so kind of them to reach out to us and offer us those puppies.”

Pairings are done free of charge. Kosner said it’s solely because of grants and local donations.

“The only reason we’re still around 15 years later is because of the community partners we have,” said Kosner.

Paws Giving Independence celebrates 15 years this September.

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