Honoring “Honor”


Freedom Dogs is a nonprofit organization committed to speeding the recovery and enhancing the lives of wounded military heroes through the use of specialty-trained service dogs. Along with their devoted trainers, Freedom Dogs provides both physical and emotional support, assisting wounded warriors as they integrate back into society.

In June 2016, a Marine began working with multiple Freedom Dogs to support him during his battle with post-traumatic stress disorder. After completing three months of training with 2 and 4 legged members of Freedom Dogs, the Marine started the transition toward a full-time placement. Early on, it was apparent that the Marine and Freedom Dog Honor were a perfectly matched team as Honor helped the Marine get through some very dark times. In December of 2016, the Marine successfully completed his transition for permanent placement with Honor.

Throughout this Marine’s time out of the Corps, he has been a remarkable service dog owner. The Marine regularly communicated with the Freedom Dogs team despite moving several times. He would frequently text Dr. Boldrick, the Veterinarian Advisor to Freedom Dogs, when he had any concerns. He would also reach out to Katie Stoll, his Freedom Dogs trainer, and Beth Russell, the founder of Freedom Dogs.

Recently, the Marine called Beth because he was concerned that Honor was having trouble drinking water and was not eating. Beth and Dr. Boldrick recommended that he take Honor to his veterinarian to be examined. He immediately made an appointment and was told that Honor has swollen lymph nodes throughout her body. An oncologist determined that seven-year-old Honor, had T cell lymphoma with a life expectancy of 6 months. Honor has been placed on a chemotherapy regiment that her doctor feels will allow her to continue functioning as a service dog.

Sometimes, a Freedom Dog will be asked to go beyond the usual duties of serving the emotional and physical needs of a wounded Marine. Such is the case with Willy, a three-year-old Labrador Retriever who was chosen to be Honor’s successor. Willy’s intelligence, intuition and caring demeanor, makes him the ideal candidate to help Honor and her Marine. One of Willy’s trainers reported that during a routine morning walk, Willy noticed some motion out of the corner of his eye, and quickly turned his head to see something that would startle and cause the average dog to run towards the noise. A small rabbit had scampered out of the bushes. But Willy, with his loving disposition towards animals, combined with his extensive specialty service dog training, did not lunge at the rabbit. Instead, Willy just trotted along on the walk with his trainer.

Willy has worked hard these past two years and is ready to take on the job of serving Honor’s Marine especially when the difficult time comes to grieve Honor’s passing. During this transition, Willy will also be a companion, mentor and motivator for Honor during the remaining months of her life. Thanks to Freedom Dogs, Honor can now stand down and will be able to rest comfortably forever more in the knowledge that Willy can carry on, in dutifully safe service for her Marine.


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Esteban Villanueva