Freedom Dogs, the San Diego-based non-profit organization dedicated to training service dogs for wounded military heroes, is expanding its reach. The organization has been providing service dogs and their trainers to U.S. Marines based at Camp Pendleton since 2009. As word spreads of the effectiveness of these dogs in providing wounded warriors with the physical and emotional support needed to transition back into civilian life, demand is pouring in from all branches of the military. “These requests have been coming in for a long time,” Board Member Lori Walton shared with GB Magazine. Now, Freedom Dogs is stepping up to meet that demand!
Freedom Dogs was founded by former critical care nurse Beth Russell after she witnessed first-hand the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) suffered by U.S. military heroes, and realized that, along with the dogs, she could help. For veterans suffering from this terrifying and debilitating psychological disorder – which includes a staggering 83% of military who have served post 9/11 – a loud noise or a sudden movement can be traumatizing, sending them into a trigger response and making even something as simple as grocery shopping, or leaving the house, seem impossible. Mostly Labrador Retrievers, chosen for their mellow temperaments and loving nature, the dogs undergo two years of training where, among other things, they learn to recognize these trigger responses and how to guide their person back into the present moment. What’s more, the signature blend of loyalty, comfort and love that the dogs offer, is a proven remedy, recognized by the American Psychological Association to speed the recovery of those suffering from PTSD. “There is a look of hope, and even a smile, on their faces as they work with these dogs. They are willing to give life a chance again,” shared Russell.
What makes Freedom Dogs different from other veteran assistance programs is the length of the organization’s commitment. “Many of the programs these vets have been in are for a set amount of time,” says Russell. “When the time is up, they are left to fend for themselves.” Freedom Dogs, by contrast, understands the long-term effects of PTSD, and thus, the long-term needs of these heroes. “They have never been in a program that invests in them the way Freedom Dogs does,” Russell says, recounting a recent interaction with a vet. “He asked me if he was almost out of time in our program. I reassured him, ‘Freedom Dogs are forever.’”
With an expanded market and a lifelong commitment, there is only one thing needed: more trained dogs. Freedom Dogs does not receive any government assistance, so they are dependent on the generosity of donors to fulfill their mission. The formula is simple: The more funding, the more training, the more dogs available to heroes in need. And the more lives will be changed.