Recently we got a call from Chuck, a Navy veteran who was matched with his rescued dog Zeus in October 2017. They graduated from the Operation Freedom Paws program in December 2018. Since then Chuck has worked hard to put self-destructive behavior behind him, and he has even started college. Chuck told us he had been driving when Zeus alerted him. Recognizing the onset of a severe panic attack, Chuck immediately pulled over and started practicing the grounding exercises he learned at OFP. He got out of the vehicle but became even more anxious, so he and Zeus started to walk. Monitoring the dog's behavior, as OFP taught him to do, he knew he was in no immediate danger. Then he began to examine his reactions to the surroundings. A block away, after he was able to get himself fully under control, Chuck realized the odor coming from a building was the trigger. Until that day, crowded places and certain noises had caused Chuck to have panic attacks, but never smells. As he analyzed the situation, he was able to diagnose his subconscious reaction to the odor. In 2004 he was a member of Operation Unified Assistance, the American military's humanitarian response to the devastating 9.3 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean. The building’s smell triggered memories of his traumatic experiences during the weeks he spent there, causing his panic attack. He knew if he reached out that someone from OFP would talk with him about his reaction and response to this new trigger and give him additional coping skills for the future.
Our training supplements the work clients do with their psychiatrists and therapists. We teach handlers to recognize their service dogs’ alerts to identify the onset of anxiety before it becomes critical, along with techniques to help them stay in the present moment and manage the severity of these occurrences.
COVID19 requires that we take even more care when interacting with our disabled clients. While we take all reasonable precautions to protect our own health and that of everyone we contact, we at OFP continue to perform our mission. Our clients are among the most physically and psychologically vulnerable members of the population. We are holding smaller classes on our regular schedule, communicating by email and phone with those who can’t come to us, and making sure they know we are available if they want to reach out.
We have over 100 applicants on our waiting list, and 50 teams actively trying to reach the level of independence Chuck and Zeus have achieved. Without your support, OFP does not exist. Uncertainty surrounds us all right now, but you can be confident that we will continue to rescue dogs, match them with grateful humans, and give both the promise of a better future.