Nov 2, 2019

One Particular Veteran Saved and Dog Rescued

September 21st marked Operation Freedom Paws' 8th year as a non-profit. We have accepted a total of 408 clients since 2010. US Army veteran Ashley was matched with rescued black lab mix April in May of 2018. April was rescued from a shelter in Clovis, CA that knows exactly what we want for our service dogs. They contact us when they have a likely candidate, and April is a perfect fit for Ashley and her family.

Despite having to drive over two hours each way from attend training while juggling VA appointments and family, Ashley was ready to take her 7-hour public access test in May of this year. Ashley's goal from the day she returned from the war was to reconnect with her young son, which was extremely difficult as she tried to cope with PTS and other challenging medical issues. But this summer she has been able to coach his soccer team to a winning record---they're in second place going into the regional tournaments!

Ashley says her success is a direct result of OFP's training, which was possible because of donations like yours. OFP provides every service dog team with veterinary care, dog food, equipment and training at no charge. We provide access to a licensed therapist at every training session, and even help with the cost of getting clients to and from training when necessary. OFP's program becomes a client's primary mission until s/he is able to continue progressing and healing independently.

Ashley says improvement in her verbal communication has been one of the key benefits of OFP's training. We begin by encouraging clients to talk to their dogs in three different voices: command, praise and correction. The command voice is difficult for many because they don't want to sound like they're yelling at the dogs, but it's important for the handler to clearly communicate what is expected of the animal without sounding angry. Most clients have not created the habit of praising their dogs when they do something right. We constantly remind them that praise is more important than treats----in fact, it will eventually replace treats. Corrections must be given at the right time, using the right words and tone, and the handler has to immediately return to the command voice after a correction. A client who holds on to anger or frustration will repel the dog, so this is a critical part of their communication skills. Ashley has told us that this training has carried over to other areas of her life, so it is easier for her to talk to her doctors and therapists. This means she is getting better treatment from her medical team. That habit of giving praise carries over to family, too, creating positive and closer relationships with loved ones.

THANK YOU for supporting Ashley and April, and all of our clients and their dogs!

Links:

Nov 1, 2019

One Particular Veteran Saved and Dog Rescued

September 21st marked Operation Freedom Paws' 8th year as a non-profit. We have accepted a total of 408 clients since 2010. US Army veteran Ashley was matched with rescued black lab mix April in May of 2018. Despite having to drive over two hours each way from attend  training while juggling VA appointments and family, Ashley was ready to take her 7-hour public access test in May of this year.

Ashley's goal from the day she returned from the war was to reconnect with her young son, which was extremely difficult as she tried to cope with PTS and other challenging medical issues. But this summer she has been able to coach his soccer team to a winning record---they're in second place going into the regional tournaments! She says her success is a direct result of OFP's training, which was possible because of donations like yours. OFP provides every service dog team with veterinary care, dog food, equipment and training at no charge. We provide access to a licensed therapist at every training session, and even help with the cost of getting clients to and from training when necessary. OFP's program becomes a client's primary mission until s/he is able to continue progressing and healing independently.

Ashley says improvement in her verbal communication has been one of the key benefits of OFP's training. We begin by encouraging clients to talk to their dogs in three different voices: command, praise and correction. The command voice is difficult for many because they don't want to sound like they're yelling at the dogs, but it's important for the handler to clearly communicate what is expected of the animal without sounding angry. Most clients have not created the habit of praising their dogs when they do something right. We constantly remind them that praise is more important than treats----in fact, it will eventually replace treats. Corrections must be given at the right time, using the right words and tone, and the handler has to immediately return to the command voice after a correction. A client who holds on to anger or frustration will repel the dog, so this is a critical part of their communication skills. Ashley has told us that this training has carried over to other areas of her life, so it is easier for her to talk to her doctors and therapists. This means she is getting better treatment from her medical team. That habit of giving praise carries over to family, too, creating positive and closer relationships with loved ones.

THANK YOU for supporting Ashley and April, and all of our clients and their dogs!

Links:

Aug 14, 2019

Veterans (and others) Saved and Dogs Rescued

New Service Dog Teams
New Service Dog Teams

Since this project was created for GlobalGiving’s Paws & Claws campaign in May, we've been working hard to contact and interview every veteran on our waiting list. Because of their disabilities, the people we support are extremely unlikely to answer the phone unless they know exactly who is calling and why, so it requires multiple attempts and forms of communication to actually talk with them on the phone. Even when we've been able to chat about the program, answer questions and schedule an interview, applicants may not be able to attend. Sometimes the VA makes appointments that conflict, and those always have to take priority for veterans because they are so hard to arrange. In other cases, regardless of how badly they want to come, a bad night can lead to panic attacks that make it impossible for applicants to leave the safety of their homes. In spite of these challenges, we have been able to interview and accept 14 veteran clients since May 1st, and we have more appointments scheduled.

Whenever we accept a new client s/he starts training immediately. In some cases, the right dog to help with the handler’s specific injuries has not been rescued yet, so that’s when we contact and visit shelters to find the perfect animal for that client. In the meantime, clients who haven’t been matched attend training so they can get to know staff and become comfortable at the OFP Center. After matching dogs, we keep them under the care of OFP staff at the Center until we are sure the match is right, and we know the clients are committed to the program. The dogs learn very quickly who their new handlers are, and their excitement when they see them before a training session is pure joy. The corresponding smiles on the veterans’ faces when they see their dogs is our first indication that they are beginning to heal. Within a few weeks, when the bonds between dogs and handlers are solid and we’re sure of the commitment, we ask if the client is ready to take the dog home. The resounding “YES” is often accompanied by happy tears and big hugs. We know there will be ups and downs over the next months, but we will be on hand to help every team succeed.

Our tag line is "Four Paws, Two Feet, One Team". This quarter we've tested and certified six service dog teams who have fulfilled the terms of the contracts they signed on the day they were accepted into the program. It has not been an easy journey for any of these disabled men and women, but their dogs have helped them in ways they could not imagine on that first day. In this particular group, there are 3 veterans from different eras and branches of the military, 2 non-veteran adults and 1 teenager. Their reasons for needing service dogs are as different as their dogs. But there are common threads, too. Each of them is a better communicator and a more empowered self-advocate than at the beginning of training. They are all stronger and more capable of coping with the challenges their disabilities present. They have all learned to pay attention to their dogs' alerts to help them manage their medical issues before they reach a critical level. At the other end of the leash, their dogs have learned to focus on that one person, and refined their ability to scent changes in their handlers' body chemistry. Thanks to the support we receive from donors like you, these teams have benefitted from a program that has allowed them to achieve goals and realize dreams that seemed out of reach. They will continue to participate in training to keep their skills sharp and stay in contact with their "OFP Family", but they have achieved the independence we all hoped for on that first day. Thank you for helping them!!

Army Veteran Rafael with Lincoln
Army Veteran Rafael with Lincoln
 
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