Operation Freedom Paws empowers veterans and others to live a quality life by teaching them to train their own dogs, and certifying them as service dog teams. The dogs, usually from rescue organizations or shelters, are carefully evaluated. Each is then matched to a specific client’s physical and psychological needs. There is no charge--all we ask is a commitment to complete the 48-week training program. 100% of OFP’s funding is provided by fundraising events, individual donations and grants from private foundations.
Our nonprofit rescues shelter dogs chosen for specific characteristics, and then matches them with our clients. We train each pair together during a 48-week program. They start with basic obedience. After passing the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test, each team begins the training needed to eventually pass a 6-hour public access test, which we require for them to become a Certified Service Dog Team. There is no charge to the client for the dog, training, veterinary care or equipment while the team is training. Approximately 85% of our clients are military veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTS), mobility issues and/or traumatic brain injuries. Others are adults and children with medical issues such as diabetes, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and muscular dystrophy.
Teams work at their own pace, but the benefits of the canine-human relationship can be seen almost immediately after training begins. For example, veterans with PTS often experience anxiety, hypervigilance, and nightmares. By sensing changes in body chemistry, the dogs quickly learn to function as an “early warning system”. They recognize, react, and break these harmful cycles. Dogs can be taught to waken, bring medications and even turn on lights to help people re-orient themselves and begin experiencing normal sleep patterns. Tasks unique to the client’s needs are taught to the dog and handler. In some cases, new training and tasks are developed to help with a client’s individual situation.