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