Junior nursing student Emma Burling has a particularly special “tail” to tell. As Burling goes about her daily life, studying hard to achieve her dream of becoming a nurse, she has a near-constant companion: Corduroy, a 2-year-old Labrador retriever, who is doing his own type of intense training. With Burling’s help, Corduroy is working to become a service dog.

When Emma was a freshman at Illinois State University, she joined a student organization called Indy-pendence Service Dog Organization, which is overseen by Paws Giving Independence (PGI) in Peoria. PGI was founded in 2008 by students at Bradley University. The trainers saw a need for service dogs in Central Illinois and had experience in physical therapy and, coincidentally, nursing. The dogs help individuals with spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, developmental delays, and other conditions.

“I fell in love with it,” Burling said. “As student trainers, we foster, puppy-raise, and transition the dogs from eight weeks to about two years. Corduroy is my second full-time foster through PGI. I began training him in September.”

Dogs can be trained to perform a variety of tasks, including mobility assistance and medical alerting. Corduroy is in his final stages of training and is perfecting specific jobs that his future recipient will utilize, such as letting his handler or another person know about a medical event, aiding with balance, and retrieving items. Some of PGI’s dogs are obtained through animal shelters and rescues. All of them are placed with recipients free of charge.

“It is so special to be able to train Corduroy while going about my regular life, even when attending classes. I love knowing that one day he will truly make a difference for someone!” Burling said.

And at MCN, we love knowing that students, like Emma, are already making a difference in so many ways.