COLUMBIA, S.C. — A different type of graduation took place Sunday. 

Assistance dogs with Palmetto Animal Assisted Life Services (PAALS) crossed the stage and received their doggie diplomas. 

They will now become full-time assistants for people with disabilities across South Carolina.

It was an annual event and, no doubt, a big day for the dogs, but, it's people like 18-year-old Alex Droney, one of their handlers, who will feel the life changing affects.

From the first day they met, Droney says she and her service dog Moose instantly connected.

Alex and Moose
Alex and Moose
Kayland Hagwood

"We clicked immediately," she said. "He is like me as a dog, seriously -- peanut butter to my jelly."

She suffers from a neurological disorder called Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, which affects her muscles and motor skills. 

"It weakens my muscles and destroys the nerves, so I progressively get worse. I can walk, but not very much and I'm losing my ability," she said. "I didn't see a future for myself. I figured I would be stuck with my parents forever, but Moose gives me independence where I can go places on my own."

With Moose around, she now has a new since of independence.

"I want to go to college soon. I can just go and do things now, because I don't have to depend on anybody else but him," she said.

On Sunday, she and other new pet parents shared their stories with a room full of others attending the annual PAALS assistance dog training graduation ceremony.

Moose graduated from the training program and is ready to serve.

Dog with diploma, 2019 ceremony
Dog with diploma at 2019 PAALS graduation ceremony.
Kayland Hagwood

"He can pick up things. He can carry things. He can open doors," she said. "He can get people whenever I fall.... It's amazing what these dogs can do and how they can change people's lives."

According to the hosting organization PAALS, it cost about $30,000 to breed, raise, train, certify and place a service dog. However, clients are not asked to pay that amount. 

Most pay around $5,000 and veterans and first responders are eligible to have their fees waived. 

To find out more about how you can apply for an animal, donate or volunteer visit https://paals.org/ .