CENTRAL ILLINOIS —  A volunteer nonprofit located in Peoria is still going strong after 11 years of service.

The group Paws Giving Independence volunteers and trains service dogs to assist those with an array of disabilities and offer independence to its owners. They obtain many of the dogs they train from animal rescue groups and shelters.

Michelle Yuen, one of the group co-directors, said one of the dogs’ specialties is assisting people with mobility issues.

“The dogs are trained to help someone with a disability,” Yuen said. “A lot of our dogs go for either mobility work to help someone with balance or in a wheelchair.”

The group had a training session with the dogs and college students Saturday at the Wheels O Time Museum in Dunlap to get the dogs used to environments with unusual sounds and visuals.

Yuen said the dogs are placed with its owner free of charge and many of the skills they learn include: picking up keys, helping someone up and downstairs, opening doors and turning on light switches.

There are also dogs trained to help those who suffer from seizures such as Marissa Brown, who’s been apart of PGI for eight years.

Marissa is currently using her second service dog, named Mason, and said before she started using the program she wasn’t really able to travel by herself.

“Before I had a service dog, I couldn’t really go anywhere by myself for fear of having a seizure and no one noticing,” Brown said.

Brown said PGI’s services dogs have truly changed her life and provided her with an extra sense of security.

“He’s given me freedom and I feel more secure and safe knowing that I also have someone to protect me,” Brown said.

She said she recommends Paws Giving Independence to anyone who may be in need of service dogs and the group has a special place in her heart.

“They are just fantastic,” Brown said. “They’re like an extension of our own family because of how much they’ve helped us in my life in particular.”

More information about PGI’s services can be found on their website and also by visiting their Facebook page.