Freedom Dogs: Support for Wounded Warriors

Freedom Dogs Logo

Freedom Dogs is a nonprofit organization devoted to serving wounded members of the military who are attempting to return to civilian life. Along with our trainers, our specialty service dogs provide both physical and emotional support, helping wounded warriors to successfully make this challenging transition.

Working closely with the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton in Southern California, our organization provides custom-trained dogs through two free programs: The Partner Program pairs a dog and trainer team with a warrior to complement rehabilitation and assist in the recovery process. If needed, the Partner for Life Program matches a dog with a warrior for life.

Freedom Dogs is a fully registered 501(c)3 nonprofit. As a totally volunteer organization, no staff or trainers receive compensation for their work in our program.

Our History

A former critical care nurse in the Surgical ICU/ Trauma unit of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Medical Center, Beth Russell, RN, launched Freedom Dogs in 2006, later becoming its lead trainer and director. Both of her parents were veterans of World War II, so Russell had a great interest in working with the military.

In May of 2009, Freedom Dogs completed a pilot program with the Marine Corps’s Wounded Warrior Battalion-West at Camp Pendleton as requested by the Commandant of the Marine Corps. It paired specialty service dogs and their trainers with two Marines—becoming an indispensable part of the Marines’ rehabilitation and recovery from post-traumatic stress. This pilot was so successful it resulted in an ongoing close partnership between the Wounded Warrior Battalion – West (WWBn-W) and Freedom Dogs—the only one of its kind in the country.

Our Clients

Our organization is “embedded” in the Wounded Warrior Battalion – West on Camp Pendleton, California. The Wounded Warrior Battalion – West directly assigns us men and women in need of the educational training process, thorough follow-up, and continued support our program provides. Our close collaboration with the Wounded Warrior Battalion – West ensures the best chances for success.

For example, after each working team session with a Marine, the trainer files a report with the Marine’s health care provider. The Marines also file reports, describing their levels of anxiety, progress meeting goals, and plans for the future. The health care provider reviews all this information, further tailoring the Marine’s plan of care, as needed.

Nearly half of the 1.6 million warriors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking benefits for disabilities. Freedom Dogs is changing the lives of wounded warriors like these. Freedom Dogs strives mightily to reduce the impact of disabling conditions on the health, mood, social interaction, and employment of returning Marines.

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Esteban Villanueva