Fighting Illini Football opened up Big Ten play on a Friday night in September after suffering a narrow defeat to drop to 2-1. Nevertheless, the spirited Illini led the Penn State Nittany Lions in the third quarter and entered the final frame with the ball and a four-point deficit.
The dam broke, and Penn State scored 35 more points to win 63-24.
This was upsetting, but as a savvy user of Fighting Illini Twitter, I soon felt better. Why?
The Fighting Illini may have lost last night, but Ike and Alma definitely enjoyed their first time under the Friday night lights! pic.twitter.com/wOf56RisVS— Illini Service Dogs (@Illinidogs) September 22, 2018
A few weeks later, the Illini took a 3-2 record into Homecoming weekend and got thoroughly waxed by Purdue. The sun rose the next day, however:
Illini Service Dogs wishes you a Happy Homecoming Weekend! We are so proud to be Illini pic.twitter.com/yoMqnpmJ8H— Illini Service Dogs (@Illinidogs) October 14, 2018
Illini Service Dogs’ online presence provided a buffer against the constant ennui of caring deeply about whether or not the Fighting Illini win (or, by the end of the year, whether or not they even score), and so I decided to do a little more research into the organization.
An overview, from the website:
From providing mobility service dogs at absolutely no cost to educating the public on disability culture and rights, we are passionate students and professionals who volunteer their time and skills to accomplish one mission of mobilizing the world. Our mission ends when the financial barriers to obtaining and owning a high quality service dog are eliminated and the public’s knowledge of the disability community and its rights are second nature. Until then, you’ll find us tirelessly working to implement this vision. We believe that by providing even more independence to those with a physical disability in conjunction with being a catalyst for spreading awareness in support of the disability community, we are making the world a better place, four paws at a time.
Illini Service Dogs is a non-profit organization that not only trains service dogs but gives students opportunities to contribute and advocates for disability rights. Its founder, Bridget Evans, was born with spina bifida and struggled to obtain a service dog throughout her youth due to long waiting lists with groups that required substantial donations anyway. After some research, her family decided to try training her beloved black lab Coal to meet her disability needs as a service dog. This proved so successful that Bridget started training other service dogs, and in 2010 while a student at the University of Illinois she formed a team of students to foster and train service dogs with her. This became Illini Service Dogs, the first college student program of its kind in the country.
In the time since, ISD has become a fixture on campus. As service dog training requires being out in public, the extremely good doggies make frequent appearances at places like this:
They serve a much greater purpose than making me less sad about giving up 63 points in football games, but I’m grateful for that as well.
If you would like to support Illini Service Dogs, please consider donating. The smallest contribution can help the littlest of puppers make a world of difference!