Community Volunteer Inspired by Wags for Mags

Posted by: Jean Lloyd - December 17, 2017

Driven by a strong sense of commitment to community service and a love of spending time with animals, Jonathan Spray (Bradley University, 2019) found the perfect campus volunteer opportunity with “Wags for Mags.”

“Wags for Mags” is a student-run organization operating under the nonprofit organization Paws Giving Independence NFP (PGI) on Bradley University’s campus. Founded by Bradley students in 2008 its primary focus has been to train mobility service dogs for free placement to individuals who need them.

Dogs complete simple tasks for their owners such as picking up dropped items, turning on lights or opening doors. PGI’s goal is to provide support to encourage independence for the dogs’ owners. PGI’s service dogs are placed at no cost to the individuals they benefit including those with spinal cord injury, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, developmental delays, cerebral palsy, balance problems, and more. PGI is run exclusively on public donations and endowments.

Spray first learned about Wags for Mags from a friend who regularly attended the bi-weekly student training sessions where students who weren’t student trainers could practice basic training commands with the dogs.“Seeing how much I loved dogs, she insisted I should come to one of the training sessions,” Spray said. “Before I knew it, I found myself going to every training session.”

New student trainers are selected from a large pool of applicants who are assessed based on how well they work with the dogs and their ability to maintain the dogs’ focus. Spray was one of only two trainers selected in the spring 2016 semester through the highly selective process.

Donna Kosner, co-director of PGI said Jonathan helps to train dogs, does public demonstrations and helps us to educate people about service dogs. He had to be certified as a trainer and handler and attends weekly classes to further his training.

“Recently he has been working on final training for a dog that will be placed with a high school student for mobility work. Her dog will help her both at home and at school,” Kosner said. “Since some of our dogs begin their training at the Logan Correctional Center, which is a women's prison, Jonathan also helps the dogs who come out of that program to get used to men and to learn to work with men. He is a wonderful, young man and a great ambassador for PGI.”

Liana Pavese, the Wags for Mags president said Jonathan is always willing to step up and help with public events, which is very important to make people aware of the organization.

“It’s no secret; I enjoy spending time with the animals. I also really appreciate that many of the dogs in PGI are rescued from shelters. However, while I love the dogs, the true reason I chose to become involved in Wags for Mags and PGI is that I want to help give back to the community. By training service dogs for free placement to individuals with disabilities, Wags has given me the opportunity to get help to those who truly need it. I have so many blessings to be grateful for in my life, I feel as if it is my duty to help out wherever I can,” said Spray.

In addition to learning about service dogs and dog training through his involvement Spray has learned to be more efficient with his time. He typically spends between four and eight hours a week working during training sessions, at Wags events or working one-on-one with a dog. The schedule is challenging as he focuses on his mechanical engineering studies, but Spray makes it work. His efforts have even inspired a chapter brother to get involved. Jake Burkhardt (Bradley University, 2021) was selected as a new student trainer this semester.

“I currently have a labradoodle named Toby. I love him to death. I’ve grown up with dogs my whole life, and I’ve trained dogs before at home,” said Spray. “As a trainer, I love being in Wags for Mags. Having a dog with me during the day can be challenging, especially when I have one with me during class, but I find the whole experience to be very rewarding,” said Spray.