A Chocolate Labrador Retriever Service dog named Hero, goes everywhere with his LABmom Bridget Evans, from classrooms, to movie theaters, to doctor’s appointments. He’s been there for moments of joy and sadness both. And he was by her side on Saturday, clad in his own royal blue cap and gown, when Evans made her way across the podium to accept her diploma from graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“He’s been with me through all my classes,” Evans, 24, told TODAY.com. “He deserved a cap and gown as much as I did.”
She has focused her energies towards helping others — man and dog alike — through the Illini Service Dog Program, which she started on the Urbana-Champaign campus in 2010. It’s the first program that allows college students to train service dogs for people with physical disabilities. Service dogs can often come at high costs and with long wait lists, Evans says, and she wanted to start a program that would provide dogs to people for free.
Just last month three dogs graduated from the program, which has received widespread support on campus. And Evans has trained 20 service dogs herself since working with her first dog at the age of 11.