LINCOLN, Ill. (WCIA) — A disabled veteran is thanking his service dog for saving his life. That dog was trained by an inmate at the Logan Correctional Center. He’s part of their Helping Paws program. Shortly after moving in with the veteran, he alerted him of a fire.
Now, the dog, veteran, and inmate trainer are being re-united.
“As you can tell, I’m on cloud nine right now. I’m excited to be here,” said veteran Jim Champion.
Bowie was trained by Dakota Wall, an inmate who’s part of the helping paws program at Logan Correctional Center.
“Seeing what he’s done and how amazing it is, I am so proud of him,” said Wall.
Four months ago, he officially became Champion’s service dog. Champion has multiple sclerosis and applied for a dog to help him with every day tasks. Just five days after Bowie moved in, he became a hero. One night, while the two were sleeping, Champion’s fish tank started to catch on fire.
“He started barking and I opened my eyes and I see this like spark coming, looked like a welder’s spark, real bright and it was just smoke, it was just plastic, it was choking, and I yelled out, ‘Fire,'” said Champion. “Had Bowie not had done it, woke me up, I mean, when we moved that fish tank out it was charred in there. The cabinet under the fish tank was gone, the whole.”
Champion hopes every disabled veteran has the chance to have a Bowie of their own.
“Bowie literally saved my life that day and I am forever grateful,” said Champion.
In 2005, Champion applied for a service dog with a different organization. He was denied. Champion trained a service dog on his own, but that dog died in 2017. He then applied with Helping Paws and was accepted.
Inmates who are part of the helping paws program spend 4,000 hours training dogs. They become certified animal trainers when they leave, which prepares them for a job at the end of their sentence.