Operation Golf for Freedom

Freedom dogs 1

Move over, Basketball Hall of Famer Bill Walton! On Monday, March 14, 2022, at Fairbanks Ranch Country Club, Murphy will be the main attraction. Or Libby. Or JJ, Willy, Jackson, or Livingston… Murphy is a black Labrador Retriever with soulful eyes and long floppy ears, named for Lieutenant Michael Patrick Murphy, a US Navy Seal Officer who gave his life in 2005 in Afghanistan fighting in the War on Terrorism. The pup will be one of many specialty-trained service dogs holding court for the 9th Annual Freedom Dogs Golf Tournament, all trained to do whatever is necessary, even if that means picking one golf ball out of a sea of them in a not-to-miss dog-meets-golf, Ball Retrieval Contest. The prize for this contest: $1,000. The cause: Freedom Dogs. The mission: to provide military heroes with the support they need as they recover from the physical and psychological effects of military combat. To give them – in one word – freedom.

Freedom Dogs is a San Diego-based nonprofit, dedicated to the training of Specialty Service Dogs that help wounded American military heroes transition from military to civilian life. The organization was founded in 2006 by Beth Russell, a former critical care nurse at UCSD who witnessed first-hand the affects and traumas experienced by our military heroes. In 2009, Freedom Dogs began its partnership with Wounded Warrior Battalion West at Camp Pendleton, pairing the dogs with U.S. Marines recovering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The dogs – all Labrador Retrievers chosen for their easy-going and obedient nature – undergo a two-year training, wherein their handlers customize the dogs’ training to the needs of the warriors they will be aiding. The dog and its trainer are then paired with a warrior, and the team works together both in a classroom setting and in everyday life situations, assisting the warrior as he or she reenters society. In addition to helping with specific needs, such as alerting to signs of anxiety, the dogs provide their signature remedy of loyalty, comfort, and love that has been proven to speed the recovery of those suffering from PTSD. “The change in our participants after working even one time with our dogs is incredible,” Russell shared with GB Magazine. “There is a look of hope on their faces and a smile that has often not been seen for some time. They are willing to give life a chance again as they work with these dogs.”

The Golf Tournament, co-chaired by Lori and Bill Walton, is the principal fundraiser for Freedom Dogs. The tournament covers one-third of the organization’s annual operating budget, and all profits go directly to working with the dogs and their warriors. There are several ways to give, including, of course, registering to golf. (Don’t wait; space is limited, and the tournament always sells out.) There are also sponsorship opportunities at all levels. Or simply come, enter the Ball Retrieval Contest ($10 per ball) and get a selfie with Murphy and his pals – a once-a-year opportunity for a one-of-a-kind program!

To donate and learn more about Freedom Dogs, please visit www.freedomdogs.org.

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Esteban Villanueva