Graduating with Paw-nors: Service dogs to help people with disabilities

With paws and circumstance, more than 30 service dogs stepped across the stage at Hopkins High School on Saturday afternoon, officially graduating from training and into their forever homes with their new companions. 

It was a long overdue graduation ceremony for Helping Paws, a local non-profit that places service dogs to help those with disabilities, veterans with PTSD or at facilities with mental health professionals. Thanks to donations, the dogs come at little to no cost. 

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For more than two years, pandemic restrictions delayed the in-person celebration. The event was a reunion for Karen Hupp and Pepper, the golden retriever. Hupp trained Pepper for two and a half years. 

"'Go Home Day' is a very emotional for all of us, but we are so proud and so excited to see what these dogs can do," said Hupp. 

Pepper now lives with Angelea Foley and brings her everything from companionship to items that might be difficult for her to pick up from her wheelchair. 

"The first word that comes to mind when I think of Pepper is just how sweet is. She's a very caring dog," Foley said. 

"I frequently will drop things on the floor and she can pick them up and give them to me," said Foley. 

These dogs proving to be so much more than just pets, but a true lifeline for those who need them. 

"The gifts that she brings me are hard to explain. They are kind of priceless," said Foley.