By Janet Wenholz - Assistant to the Executive Director
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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