WILLISVILLE, Ill. -- Many of the small towns dotting the southern Illinois landscape go unnoticed -- and Willisville is no different.
Fewer than 700 people call the Illinois 4 town in Perry County home, and even many lifelong southern Illinoisans would have trouble finding the community on a map.
But on the outskirts of town, Tiffany Denyer and her colleagues at Wilderwood Service Dogs are on the cutting edge of research and execution of the training of dogs to work with individuals with neurological disorders.
The organization, founded in Tennessee in 2005, moved to Willisville in January 2011. Denyer founded the organization to work with people of all ages suffering from brain disorders, including autism and Asperger's, stroke and brain injury, and Alzheimer's and dementia.
"I do what I do because I love the families I work with," Denyer said. "I love the difference these dogs make; it's the 'See, it works,' moment. Any time I can get that message out there, it's wonderful."
Before working with canines, Denyer spent her career working at a psychiatric care facility. Not seeing the results she hoped for, she started exploring animal training with her personal pets. Determining it to be a viable option for the future, she left her job and continued her education.
The hard work has paid off, as she has now placed about 70 dogs in various homes. The animals are trained for a variety of uses, including alerting other family members if someone is trying to leave the house and simply just providing comfort.
But outside organizations are also taking note. Earlier this month, Denyer was inducted into the St. Louis University Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame. She has also been working with Maryville College in Tennessee to support her cause.
"It's really rewarding," she said. "It's really changes people's lives."
But like many others in similar situations, Denyer and her colleagues can't do everything alone. While they train dogs to help clients across the country, they need help closer to home in southern Illinois.
Volunteers are constantly being sought for many different levels of involvement. People can come to the home facility and walk and work with the motley crew of canines that call Wilderwood home, or they can offer a foster home for weekend respite. By taking a dog into one's home for even just a weekend, a person can make a big difference in training the animals and getting them accustomed to being in a home.
Monetary donations are also accepted. To learn more about volunteering or donating to Wilderwood, call 618-497-2051.
"We are literally changing lives; we're doing cutting-edge research," Denyer said. "Whether you like kids or the elderly or dogs, we've got it all."