Mar 9, 2021

Adonis and Smokey

Army Veteran Adonis with his Service Dog Smokey
Army Veteran Adonis with his Service Dog Smokey
Rescues make up 90% of the dogs we certify, but sometimes an applicant already has a dog s/he wants to try to turn into a medical service animal. Veterans bond with a dog they already own. We prefer to choose the dog for each client, but we don’t automatically say “no” when we get those applications. We provide the list of required vaccinations so, when we schedule the interview, the applicant is prepared bring the dog onsite. While we’re chatting with the person, we are also evaluating the dog, using the same 30-step process dogs at shelters go through. Not every dog has the qualities needed to become a good service dog.

Army veteran Adonis already owned Smokey when he applied to OFP’s service dog program, and hoped he could be trained as his service dog. Although Smokey’s breed is typically more focused on other dogs than on people, it was obvious to the interview team that Smokey was helping Adonis manage his medical issues. Whenever we accept a new client with a dog, we take a “wait and see” approach. No matter how strong the bond is between handler and dog, the dog needs to calmly go out in public wherever the handler needs to go. Regardless of what is going on around them, the dog must remain focused on the handler. Teaching positive reinforcement and nose work are important parts of achieving this level of teamwork, because the dog can typically smell things sooner than the human can see them. If he smells something he thinks may be a threat, the dog’s training should tell him NOT to take protective action, but to alert the handler. The person is taught to look where the dog’s nose is pointing and decide whether the perceived threat is real or not. Just as with a medical alert, the handler is taught to acknowledge the dog’s signal and take the appropriate action.

Adonis and Smokey graduated from the OFP program last October, after many of the ups and downs every team experiences. Now an OFP mentor-trainer, Adonis is leading classes and learning to help other clients achieve their goals. He understands the journey required for both dog and handler to develop a smoothly functioning bond, especially in a “real world” full of distractions. But Adonis is up for the challenge, and we’re happy to have him on board!
Oct 9, 2020

Building Trust

Joseph and Buddy
Joseph and Buddy

TRUST---it's built with consistency, and one of he most important things we empower our clients to do.

When OIF/OEF veteran Joseph first came to us he was angry, defensive, hard to reach and uncommunicative. He came into our program with his rescued dog Buddy, who was also angry, defensive, hard to reach and uncommunicative.

They perfectly mirrored each other.

While they trained during the following year, this team faced a lot of challenges and struggles. Like most of our clients, there were times when Joseph wondered if they would make it. But during obedience classes, the communication skills and anger management we wanted to instilll in them gradiually became habits. These two first learned to trust each other, then to trust our OFP team, and ultimately to expand that circle of trust to others.They began to connect, developed coping skills,and opened themselves up to the world a little bit more every day. 

Joseph and Buddy DID successfully complete the program and become an OFP-certified service dog team. Joseph said, “Instead of just improving on my dog’s obedience, this program [helped me] improve myself.”

Today Joseph and Buddy still mirror one another, but this is what it looks like now. These hard-won moments are why we do what we do.

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Jun 11, 2020

Operation Freedom Paws Training Continues Despite

Robert and Chief visit the Ocean
Robert and Chief visit the Ocean

The Operation Freedom Paws program is complex, which is why it lasts a year. Things can happen that prevent a client from attending classes. Medical challenges, job changes, family issues---any one of those can create significant roadblocks. For Army veteran Robert and his service dog Chief, all those challenges have come into play during the past two years. First, Robert needed a complicated back surgery that had to be done twice. Thanks to OFP’s training, Chief and Robert knew just what to do to help him stay calm, heal, and gradually reduce the need for pain medications. During his recovery, we remained in touch, celebrating each small victory. Robert told us that our frequent contact helped him stay hopeful and grounded during his long and difficult rehabilitation. When the team finally returned to class, Robert told us about some significant psychological breakthroughs he had experienced in talks with his VA therapist. OFP’s mental health professionals were able to help him incorporate Chief into the exercises the VA had given him, and develop new coping skills. Upon his return to work, Robert was told that his office was being eliminated. He discussed various options with OFP staff before making a final choice, knowing we would have his best interests at heart. That level of trust is hard-earned, and we were honored to be included in the decision-making process. Ultimately Robert decided to move to Texas, where he has been for the past year. We correspond with him regularly. He and Chief continue to use tools he learned during his OFP training and work on new tasks.

Although he had never mentioned it while at OFP, Robert has been afraid of the ocean since Hurricane Katrina. He and Chief visited Galveston last week specifically to face that challenge. Chief led Robert into the water without hesitation, and Robert’s now-ingrained trust in his dog allowed him to manage and conquer his fear. Teaching our clients to accept their dogs’ ability to discriminate between real and perceived dangers is one of the important lessons this team learned after starting their training in 2018. Although no longer able to attend classes, Robert continues to benefit from relationships he formed with OFP staff members. Every day he builds on the foundation laid in training. He is now able to ask for help when he needs it, and is successfully accomplishing his goals, despite the challenges life has thrown in his path.

 
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