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Operation Freedoms Paws

Rating: 4.98 stars   41 reviews 2,593

Nonprofit Issues:

Veterans

Address:

777 First Street Pmb 515 Gilroy CA 95020 USA

Mission:

2014 Top-Rated Nonprofit
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htpp://operationfreedomspaws.org

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Reviews for Operation Freedoms Paws

Rating: 5 stars  

I am a Vietnam Veteran with PTS. My Great Dane, Abbey, and I were accepted into the Operation Freedom Paws "family" by founder/President Mary Cortani in July, 2012. We were certified as a Service Dog Team in June, 2013. Due to my situation at the time, I committed to attending two to three sessions per week. The time Abbey and I spent training was needed for completely bonding. A tremendous amount of healing was going on at the same time. Abbey and I look forward to seeing old and new friends in our training sessions. It's difficult for me to describe how thankful I am to OFP for teaching me the skills needed for finding a new "normal" for myself and my family.

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Review from Guidestar
1 previous review
Rating: 5 stars  

6 people found this review helpful

Our experience with Operation Freedom Paws has been life-changing. My wife knew she was slowly losing me to PTSD. Fortunately, my VA counselor recommended OFP to us. Founder, Mary Cortani, accepted me and my puppy as veteran-clients last July, 2012. I committed to the program largely because of Mary's military background in dog training. Our family and friends have been relived and surprised by the progress and healing they have witnessed.

My 130-pound puppy and I enjoy our training sessions and continue to learn new skills from Mary and her team that help us maneuver in public settings. Abbey and I look forward to seeing our OFP family, human and canine. I am able to go out in public again because I have a companion that is trained to assist with my specific needs.

We will continue to volunteer our time to OFP after graduation because the program provides such a valuable service to our veterans. It is also heart warming to see the rescued shelter dogs so happy to please their new owners.

How would you describe the help you got from this organization?

Life-changing

How likely are you to recommend this organization to a friend?

Definitely

How do you feel you were treated by this organization?

Very Well

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2013

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1 previous review
Rating: 5 stars  

2 people found this review helpful

I'm a disabled Vietnam vet. My dog and were accepted to the training in July of this year. I cannot find enough words to describe how much my life has changed. Having PTSD, it was a major step for me to start. Mary Cortani told me that she would have my back at all times and that OFP was a safe environment. She has done that and more. I find myself looking forward to training and becoming a team with my dog. OFP has changed my life in a very wonderful way. Mary and her great team do a super service to veteran and others with disabilities.

How would you describe the help you got from this organization?

Life-changing

How likely are you to recommend this organization to a friend?

Definitely

How do you feel you were treated by this organization?

Very Well

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

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Rating: 5 stars  

My two sons were going though a rough time in their life. Both have a bone disease which requires surgeries on a regular basis. Even with professional psychiatric help, we were not able to help them deal with their problems.

We came to OFP to see if there might be some help. The whole organization opened their arms to our family and we received far more than we could have ever imagined. OFP is the best organization I have ever been involved with. All of it's resources are focused on the clients. I have seen people with many different types of life challenges, be effectively helped by OFP.

Without reservation I recommend Operation Freedom Paws as a effective, well run, compassionate, and caring organization.

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Review from Guidestar
Rating: 5 stars  

I am a diabetic and also have multiple sclerosis. I started having dangerous low blood sugars and I needed a diabetic alert dog that would alert me before my blood sugar went out of range, so I could take corrective action before a medical problem appeared.I did fundraising and raised 15K from my community supporters to purchase my diabetic alert dog from a traditional service dog organization. The dog I received at a weekend pickup meeting was unfortunately only very minimally trained, only 8 months old, did some alerting, but lacked many of the basic obedience and public access skills required for a service dog. I was badly in need of some help with my dog and am so grateful that Mary Cortani and Operation Freedom Paws took me under their wings in Jan 2015. In the past three months my dog improved greatly in her obedience and public access skills as well as alerting me. A big surprise and blessing to me was that I thought I was going to OFP to train my dog. I found out that my life improved as much as my dog's! Through working with OFP I have experienced the beginning of emotional healing from past trauma, as well as improved physical, mental and spiritual health. I am looking forward to the healing continuing for all.

Working with OFP has been the best thing that has ever happened to me and for that I will forever be eternally grateful!


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Review from Guidestar
Rating: 5 stars  

1 person found this review helpful

My service dog and I continue to learn and grow with Operation Freedom Paws. She started out being trained as a peanut-alert dog to help me avoid reactions from my life-threatening allergy. But she learned also to alert me to back pain that I've dealt with for 40 years. She tells me to sit down and take a break before the pain gets so bad that I HAVE to stop. She learned this on her own, and it took me a while to recognize it. But her alerts really help keep me from overdoing and paying for it the next day!

I also am privileged as an OFP staff member to work with the veterans that OFP helps by teaching them to train their own service dogs to help with injuries like PTSD, brain injuries, mobility assistance, and hearing loss. It's incredibly rewarding to watch veterans and rescued dogs work diligently together, learning to become well-matched teams. In this program, dogs and people save each other, and the bonds they share are truly life-altering.

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Review from Guidestar
1 previous review
Rating: 5 stars  

3 people found this review helpful

I have been honored to be involved with Operation Freedom Paws since their nonprofit status was granted in 2011. Many lives have been positively impacted in a short time by the vision and dedication of everyone involved with this organization. As a client myself, I have learned to create an extremely strong bond with my service dog, who has been taught to alert me to the presence of peanuts. She makes it easier for me to go to restaurants and not constantly worry about whether I'm going to have an embarrassing and life-threatening allergic reaction in public.

Besides my personal experience, I have been privileged to work alongside veterans who have struggled with isolation, anger, hypervigilance (typical symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress) as well as Traumatic Brain Injuries and mobility issues. Seeing the inprovement in their confidence and relationships with strangers and family members are incredibly gratifying. Working with their dogs gives them a new mission, and a partner who helps them regain their independence.

Other fellow clients are children and adults with medical and psychological issues whose doctors believe can be helped by a service dog. It is particularly rewarding to watch children and young adults begin to comfortably interact with fellow students---these are kids who have been "special" all their lives. Now they feel special in a GOOD way, because they have well-behaved service dogs at their sides that they trained themselves.

The pride we all take in having trained our own service dogs is immense. We recognize that we are public ambassadors for ourselves, disabled people with service dogs, and Operation Freedom Paws.

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1 previous review
Rating: 5 stars  

1 person found this review helpful

Last year I reviewed Operation Freedom Paws as a volunteer, and I am still in that role. However, I am now a client as well. Mary Cortani, founder of OFP, is helping me train my rescued pit bull to be a peanut-sniffing medical alert service dog. I have had a lifelong (and life-threatening) allergy to peanuts. Last year I was told by a friend about peanut-alert service dogs that can be purchased from other organizations. After doing some internet research, I asked Mary if, with her background of training Army dogs to sniff out bombs and drugs, she might be able to help my dog learn to alert on peanuts. Mary's training methods vary depending on the client and the dog. She uses different equipment for each dog, depending on the dog and handler's physical attributes and needs. We started with nose work and then began focusing on peanuts....and it's working! A couple of weeks ago she alterted on a donut and a banana that were sprinkled with them.

I still thoroughly enjoy volunteering with the group as well. It's a joy to see veterans and others struggling with PTSD, TBI and/or mobility challenges coming out of their shells and having the confidence to interact with fellow students because they have their dogs beside them. The combination of veterans, civilians, service dog clients, and paying customers training their pets gives everyone an opportunity to form new relationships. Everyone bonds through their dogs, and we celebrate each individual milestone with every member of our "OFP family".

How would you describe the help you got from this organization?

Life-changing

How likely are you to recommend this organization to a friend?

Definitely

How do you feel you were treated by this organization?

Very Well

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2013

Was this review helpful? 
1 previous review
Rating: 5 stars  

3 people found this review helpful

In 2010 a military veteran contacted dog-trainer Mary Cortani. He had been waiting for a service dog for a long time, and wondered if she could somehow help him. That was the beginning of Operation Freedoms Paws, which teaches individuals the necessary skills to train their own service dogs, then certifies them together as a service dog team. The dogs, usually from rescue organizations or shelters, are evaluated by OFP volunteers and then matched with a specific person to meet his/her physical and psychological needs. I became involved with the group while attending dog-training classes, and I'm incredibly proud to have the opportunity to volunteer with this organization.

I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...

attending dog-training classes and having the opportunity to meet the people being helped by OFP's Service Dog program. The impact that dogs can have on the lives of veterans suffering from PTSD is amazing. Mary has a special gift for matching the right dog with the right person.

If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...

give them a larger budget!

Would you volunteer for this group again?

Definitely

For the time you spent, how much of an impact did you feel your work or activity had?

Life-changing

Did the organization use your time wisely?

Quite well

Would you recommend this group to a friend?

Definitely

When was your last experience with this nonprofit?

2012

What one change could this group make that would improve your volunteer experience?

The group is new, and the national publicity they have recently received from a CNN Hero award has been overwhelming. Everyone is scrambling to respond to requests for information and help---the infrastructure to support this explosion of interest isn't there yet, but it will be!

Did your volunteer experience have an effect on you? (teaching you a new skill, or introducing new friends, etc.)

Have made lots of new friends, both human and canine. My dog has learned new skills very quickly, and has benefitted from all the socialization, discipline and exposure. I had been considering taking a grant-writing class, and when Mary said this could help her group, I took the plunge. I still have a long way to go, but I'm enjoying what I've experienced of the process so far.

How did this volunteer experience make you feel?

Useful.

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Rating: 5 stars  

1 person found this review helpful

As a survivor of several different traumas in my life, I was amazed when I thought I was going to foster a dog…………and he saved my life! I was bound to the house in isolation by fear, and I wasn’t even aware of it until Jax came into my life. I thought that this dog could be a wonderful service dog, the problem I was having was finding a training program. That’s where Mary and OFP came to the rescue!! I am not a veteran so I was a little skeptical about being accepted into the program, and Mary had her reservations about Jax at first but then she saw the potential of us becoming a viable team. The training has been amazing however, Mary goes above and beyond constantly in ways that have always astounded me! She has the amazing gift to read people’s emotions, intervene when it’s appropriate, stay silent when it’s a lesson for the individual to learn, and to simply lay it on the line when you need it, even if you don’t want to hear it! She is very stealth and sometimes you aren’t even aware that she knows your alive and then, all of a sudden, wham!! I have gained so much self confidence and learned so much about myself I can’t even begin to say enough about Mary Cortani and her vision, she is such a wise woman!!! Although Jax has his certification, I don’t think I will ever stop going to training and being involved with the OFP team. It has been an honor to be involved in this organization and I will always support it in any way I can. I have met many friends at OFP that will be in my life forever. That is what happens when you bring the best out of people, they become a quality community!! Of course, there is an entire team that makes OFP work: Janet, Jeff, Jeremiah, and George are on the front lines as trainers and they are so appreciated! Then there is the Board of Directors, the staff and all the volunteers that are behind the scenes and are a vital part of the program to make Mary’s vision a reality. "Everything, everyday is a training opportunity".....Thank you so much Mary and the entire OFP Staff!!

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Rating: 5 stars  

1 person found this review helpful

We live nearly 2,000 miles away in a very rural area. I had given up hope. Divine intervention brought us to Operation Freedom Paws and through the long distance communications they have guided us every step of the way.

They are professional, compassionate and transparent in their actions. They provided us with up to date, concise information regarding how to properly handle ourselves in public, how to advocate and help educate as part of our role as a service dog team.

My dog has changed my life and has done so with the help of Operation Freedom Paws and Mary Cortani and Janet Wenholz as well as all the other 'OFP Family'.

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Rating: 5 stars  

1 person found this review helpful

I was diagnosed with seaver PTSD until I met Mary and the OFP staff I had major problems dealing with people. I've only been in the program for about 30 days and am now able to go to sporting events with my partner Sadie. I am now able to feel normal thanks to Mary Cortani and her staff

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Rating: 5 stars  

1 person found this review helpful

I started as the wife of a client. My husband started working with Operation Freedom Paws a little over three years ago training with his dog Lobo. The process changed our lives. With Lobo by his side Jeff was able to fulfill his life long dream of attending college. He served in the Army for 14 years and was never able to finish his degree because of his deployments. He was medically evacuated out of Iraq in 2004 and the aftermath of those injuries changed his life and greatly hampered his ability to feel safe in large crowds and he slowly spiraled in to a deep isolation that threatened our family life. The Work with Operation Freedom Paws gave him the tools to combat his fears, his work with Lobo allowed him to go to college. At college he gained confidence and began working with the veterans groups helping other veterans. I would attend training classes and I was always impressed with how much the dogs could help the veterans. But it was not until we had a huge family tragedy that I realized the depth of caring and support Mary Cortani gives to everyone in the program. In May of 2013 I became very ill, and shortly after that my husband lost his service dog Lobo to a tragic accident. We had lost our income once I got sick, I was faced with huge medical bills and complications and Jeff was beyond devastated by losing his service dog Lobo.The Operation Freedom Paws family, was at our home helping us through this for days and they proved to me how very committed to every member the program is by being present to help us through this terrible time. Mary knew Jeff was devastated by the loss and she understood how the loss was triggering all of his previous war trauma and she knew to introduce him to a new dog to keep him focused on training and not fall into the repair of losing Lobo. So Selah a incredible exuberant yellow lab came into our lives. It took a while for Jeff to be able to see beyond the grief, but Selah in the way only a dog can do - stayed in his face ready to give unending love and the people of Operation Freedom Paws were there two everyday working to help us make our way through.

It was shortly after this that I began to realize how much a service dog could help me with my medical condition and I applied to the program. Now completely disabled and with out a salary, I would never had had the funds to get a service dog in any other way. Operation Freedom Paws paired me with Ellie, and we began training together. Ellie goes with me to al of my hospital visits and she helps me through some very grueling home treatments where I am in PICC lines for 10-12 weeks at a time. I cannot express how much Mary Cortani and all of the folks at Operation Freedom Paws has done for our family. The training is not just about teaching the dog tasks; as it goes so much deeper. As someone who was transitioning into the reality that I was not permanantly disabled by a medical condition that would become worse over time, the training helped me work through all the anger and loss I felt in coming to terms with my new reality. It taught me how to work with my service dog as an extension of myself to allow me to function in the world again, how to begin to feel whole again.

For me, the service dog training has saved my life on a very literal level. Ellie is and extension of me and we work together to manage my medical condition. Ellie alerts me to when I need to take my medication and she helps me with my chronic pain levels. My pain takes a high level of medication to treat and working Ellie has helped me lower my doses on those medicines. My Doctor and I have mapped my progress while working with Ellie, and my blood pressure levels have lowered as well. Ellie has helped me to get back out into the world and feel safe that if I were to fall or go into crisis that she is there to assist me. A month ago, while at home I fell in my bedroom, and I fell in such a way that I could not gather the breath to call for help. I was stuck on the floor between the bed and the wall and unable to breathe. Ellie opened the door and ran down to notify the people in my house that I needed help. The people were outside with the glass door shut and Ellie barked and scratched at the for until they came to open it and then she lead them back to me back in my bed room. Ellie brought me help directly when I needed it and saved me again. My medical condition is permanent and progressive so we are continuing to train new tasks as we need them. This is what makes Operation Freedom Paws so special, so unlike many of the other programs for service animals. They care about you getting back to the best quality of life and they mean it. The people of Operation Freedom Paws are very much my chosen family, the training classes are a safe place for me to go and work through relearning how to do the things that most people take for granted.

Unlike the medical therapy centers who will kick you out as soon as your insurance runs out, I know the Operation Freedom Paws people are in this with me for the long haul. As long as we are wiling to put in the work, and then everyday is a training opportunity. I cannot express how much Operation Freedom Paws has changed mine and my Husband's lives. They have given us the hope that we had lost, and helped us work to regain our quality of life. The service dog training gave my husband hope for the future, as he is close to finishing his degree with honors and has been recognized with awards for service because his service dog Selah gave him the courage to finish school and motivation to give back to other veterans. Now Jeff works as a mentor trainer at OFP and he continues to work for the veterans centers at local colleges. This coming May, my husband will graduate with honors and go on to help others; which is what the program is all about.

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Rating: 5 stars  

2 people found this review helpful

Mary Cortani has a vision, it's that vision along with care and understanding that drives her and her team. I was suffering from CONSTANT FEAR, fear of everything and everywhere, I struggled to go to my mailbox or even the corner store to get food when I was out. Finding Operation Freedom Paws has been the best gift I've ever received. Mary has a way of matching a client with a rescue dog that is perfect for that disabled person, she learns about your needs from your application and face to face meeting, then the magic happens. Mary always has dogs that are ready to be matched with a disabled partner and she is also able to get you matched with your dog much faster than any other organization I contacted. The other thing her organization does is get the person out and talking with others that understand the struggles we endure. Believe it or not, the training and everything you need during your training is provided at no cost. That includes Vet costs, food, and any specialized items your dog may need. Learning to train your own service dog under professional supervision, builds a bond with the dog that allows you and your dog to become a natural team. We all train together learning basic obedience skills, then advanced obedience skills. The specialized training that your dog needs for your specific disability or disabilities, is integrated from the beginning, slowly. My life has changed in so many ways that it's ridiculous to try and list, alone I'm a disaster, with my dog I have a life. All of Operation Freedom Paws operating costs are by covered by donation or grant, they are a registered Non-Profit And many volunteer opportunities are available at the new facility, so if you are local, and a dog lover, come sign up and meet Mel the dancing Poodle! Thank you Mary and the team

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Rating: 5 stars  

1 person found this review helpful

As a community member, most of the organizations I support financially (and VERY selectively) are civil rights-oriented. Because of my experience with members of their staff and volunteers, I have made an exception for OFP. The professionalism and dedication of the staff and volunteers is amazing and the impact they are making to the lives of these special animals and OFP's human clients is life-changing and inspiring.

I am grateful that OFP is doing this important work and will continue to support them financially. I hope that you'll consider doing the same.

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