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2015 Top-Rated Nonprofit

Operation Freedoms Paws

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Military & Veterans Organizations, Veterans

Mission: Operation Freedom Paws empowers veterans and individuals with disabilities to live a quality life by teaching them to train their own dogs, and certifying them as service dog teams. The dogs, usually from rescue organizations or shelters, are carefully evaluated. Each is then matched to a specific client’s physical and psychological needs. There is no charge – all we ask is a commitment to complete the 48-week training program.

Programs: The organization provides assistance to veterans and others with disabilities to live a quality life by helping the individuals learn the necessary skills to train their dogs and then certify the individual and their dog as a service dog team.

Community Stories

65 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

5 Smoochie T.

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

In 2003 I was declared permanently and totally disabled with, "No Improvement Likely". That was TEN long years ago. My PTSD has robbed me of most of the enjoyment of my life as well as most everything even just activities of daily life.

When a beautiful dog came into our lives we decided maybe we would try to train him to help me. Unfortunately there just are no organizations in the rural, remote are we live in. The dream then of having a 'service dog' became overwhelming. We were lost.

Then, one day call it fate, I stumbled on the Operation Freedom Paws facebook page. I find it difficult to express how truly wonderful these folks are. They didn't know me, I live a thousand miles away from them, I'm not in their classes, I have nothing to offer them and yet these amazing people extended a hand, offered training tips and ENCOURAGEMENT.

They are completely non-judgmental and the positive environment that they maintain keeps me 'up'. They also understand PTSD better than any psychiatrist I've been to.

I nearly cry as I write this. With their encouragement then we as a dog team became brave, we began going OUT to the store, down the street and in the process of training the dog, I began FOCUSING on something other than my disability. Having the disabled person train the service dog is the brilliance behind this whole idea. Disabled people need a purpose and that is exactly what this fulfills.

As my 'service dog in-training' actually began to complete his tasks in helping me, I began to have HOPE again for the first time in a decade.

Hope is one of the greatest gifts of all.

2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I joined Mary when she was trying to find a place where she could follow through on her idea to train pound puppies for returning soldiers. The idea was the pups would help the Often PTSD affected Soldiers reintegrate with society. A warm furry friend , also a non judgmental friend. There are many ways life can be hard for the Military "yes Sir' person to get used to normal family life. I really did not know how strongly Mary felt about this but she is a focused former Army member and was tenascious in her outlook. Totly dedicated. It hturned out to be a very wonderful dream and I am so glad that it is working out. She is a special person, and deserves all the support she can get. I am not a soldier and I can't tell you about the sucess for them. but as a cilvianpanic attach victum I know My service dog was wa real help.

Previous Stories
2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I was becoming disabled and finding that hard to accept.Operation Freedoms Paws was offered to me and it was a wonderful program. I trained my dog and became more comfortable walking for exercise. Everyone associated with OFP Helped. The Veterans were well matched with dogs for their needs it is like a flow of magic from Mary who picks out a shelter dog for the veterans. She then helps them train the dogs and both woman and men are treated equally. There are wheelchair bound and ambulatory veterans so there are many skills in OFP training and they are worked on at every class. The Veterans seem Happy and calm with their new helpers.

3 Elisa B.

Professional with expertise in this field

Rating: 5

One word. AMAZING. This group lead by their fearless hero, Mary Cortani, is one of the most unique orgs out there. They not only save dogs lives by pulling out special animals from high kill shelters, they save lives of those who have sacrificed everything : our veterans of war who return with invisible wounds like PTSD and TBI. I was lucky enough to meet Mary when placing a dog from my local shelter with her. I was invited to see the Vet meet his new best friend, DJ. It was something I will never forget. Moving is an understatement. OFP holds a very special place in my heart and I will always have the upmost respect for Mary and her AWESOME program!!!!!!!!!! She has truly saved lives of our Veterans. Without her help, many of them would have died waiting to get a trained service dog from other orgs. But because Mary believes in letting the Vet train their own dog, these men and women wait around a month or so to have a dog placed with them. Months, compared to YEARS can make all the difference in life or death. 10 stars for Mary and all of her OFP family!!!

5 Nancy98

Client Served

Rating: 5

in March 2010, my husband was hospitalized for a severe case of pneumonia. He was also diagnosed with the beginning stages of emphysema, which was not all that surprising since he had been a heavy smoker for over 40 years up to that point. After spending close to a week in the hospital, he was released with a very promising prognosis and a commitment to never light up another cigarette.

Unfortunately, all of this wonderful progress was short-lived. On the 3rd day after being released from the hospital, he began his medication regimen which included a new antibiotic that he had not been given previously in the hospital. Within 5 minutes of taking it, he underwent an anaphylactic shock which caused one of his lungs to completely shut down and he nearly died. After being rushed back to the hospital and spending several more days recovering from this medical episode, he was released. Thus began a 3 year journey of watching my husband who had always been the calm leader and primary provider of our household transform into a completely different man who was unable to work and was continuously anxious and becoming increasingly depressed.

Everything was turned inside out and upside down. Life was no longer “normal” as we knew it. All the dreams and plans that we had for this time in my life for traveling, spending time with grand kids, being financially secure, were vanishing like grains of sand running through a sieve.

Now three years later, through the help of Operation Freedom Paws and Mary Cortani's compassionate training program with veterans and civilians and their dogs, we literally have a new lease on life and hope for the future. Mary's focus on training the handler and the dog has provided what the multitude of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications could not provide. Although my husband still has issues of anxiety which is probably now more of a result of the COPD issues that he has to cope with, he is able to go out on his own because of his service dog. Before, he had a very difficult time going out without me accompanying him. He has also been able to stop using one of the medications that he was on for depression. It has been a real blessing for our family.

We have always had a heart for organizations that provide services to our veterans. As supporters of several veteran organizations including another service dog program in Florida, we were thrilled to find Operation Freedom Paws, a local organization that we could not only support financially but also participate as clients in. Mary Cortani and her staff of volunteer mentor trainers have been a God-send to us and I cannot say enough positive things about them. We are living proof that her program works!

2 Mike54

Donor

Rating: 4

I am a disabled veteran with a service dog that did a little training at Operation Freedom Paws. Their program was very similar to the program where I obtained my service dog from, only bigger in scope. My dog and I had no problem blending in with the Operation Freedom Dog training routine. There were over two dozen dogs and handlers in training and the program went very smoothly. The only down size was just that size ... more space would sure be a benefit to a program that provides priceless support and encouragement to disabled veterans.

Previous Stories
3

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

I am a disabled veteran. I have vision, hearing, mobility, and balance issues as a result of my military service. The VA physical therapist indicated that I needed the cane for mobility, but using it was destroying my shoulder and there was nothing she could do to prevent that. I was very fortunate to obtain a service dog to replace the cane. Not only did the service dog ameliorate the slowly disintegrating shoulder, but the service dog learned to assist me with my blind and deaf left side and damaged cerebellum. In other words, the service dog helped restore a quality of like I lost 30 years ago as a result of my military service. This program is A+ and truly benefits America's veterans.

3

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

My role was not really listed as I just became a member who will be in training commencing May 18th. However, I can say that I've been looking for a program such as this type for the past 3 years (and in secret as I didn't want anyone to know of my interest in service dogs!). I suffer from PTSD / MST which is hard enough for me to divulge in itself, however; I finally got an affirmation from my counselor who suggested getting a service dog for both companion and work. I found out about Operation Freedoms Paws and had compared the program to a number of others. Now let me be clear, I believe that all these organizations who work with service dogs for Vets are all pronominal and deserve recognition, however; where I saw a big difference was in the manner in which Mary Cardoni - Founder of Operation Freedoms Paws, conducts her placing of service dogs with the character of the vets they be teaming up with. Key word being "TEAMING" as the understanding is that the Veteran is totaling emerged in learning to train his/her dog. The benefits and advantages to this approach in training are countless and I'm sure each person involved will count his or her blessing once they start the program. I believe Mary Cortani is a Trail Blazer of Operation Freedoms Paws her techniques may be the most important evolution in training that many organizations should follow.

Jorge L. Rodriguez
USMC

3

Client Served

Rating: 5

My partner and I have been going to Operation Freedom Paws for close to two months now and it has changed our lives. Mary and the organization provide wonderful training to everyone who attends. My partner and his service dog Bravo could not be happier!

3 Lauren51

Client Served

Rating: 5

I was first referred to Operation Freedoms Paws in late 2012 by my doctor as one of our last efforts to get my PTSD and panic disorder under control. I met with Mary Cortani in October and was instantly swept away in her vision for veterans who suffer from their wounds of service and for the civilians with their own challenges. I can say without a doubt that this organization has not only changed my life but the service dog I have because of Mary has actually saved my life. I cannot imagine finding a more warm open caring group of individuals who are truly in this organization to better the lives of those around them and to even give shelter dogs a second chance at a heroic new life, serving their disabled people.

3

Client Served

Rating: 5

There are so many great things that have already been said about Mary and her organization Operation Freedom Paws and how much she helps wounded veterans and all of those things are absolutely true. I also want to point out another great reason to support this incredibly worthy cause - helping animals. Most of the dogs Mary pairs with the Vets are rescues. I am incredibly proud to have met Mary and she helped us turn our bully breed rescue puppy into a loyal and much loved companion. Since we attended the same classes as the Vets we were able to witness first hand the incredible progress they are making thanks to Mary's tireless work.

4 SanJose C.

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

I am blessed and honored to call Mary Cortani a close personal friend. I can say it is just as special to see Mary build a dream into a reality in the likeness of OFP. Utilizing her military training and her expertise as a canine trainer, Mary has built a foundation to surpass all expectations of service animals. Watching Mary transform a canine and handler into a team, a unit, a partnership is magical. Not only does she give our veterans a second chance to be part of communities, she allows them to break barriers that may have seemed impossible. PTSD, Food Allergies, Anxiety, and Diabetic Levels are just a few conditions off of a long list that Mary trains her Service Dogs to be aware of to protect thier handlers. Mary has selected a strong support team to help provide the services to Veterans in need. Giving new life and hope is also given to the canines she chooses from shelters and rescues. Though the demand is high and the hours are long, Mary is determined to continue the journey with passion and devotion. It is with great pleasure I am able to share this information of OFP and Mary Cortani!

4 Tracey8

General Member of the Public

Rating: 5

Mary Cortani and Operation Freedoms Paws offer an invaluable service to both veterans and the general public. Mary has a thorough understanding of dogs and their handlers and shares this knowledge in a supportive and effective manner. As a volunteer with a German Shepherd Rescue group I wholeheartedly recommend OFP to all GSD adopters.

4

Board Member

Rating: 5

I've been fortunate enough to be involved with OFP from the very first pairing of Veteran and Shelter Dog, what a life altering journey this has been for me. I love volunteering and giving my time to this amazing organization. My father is a Marine and I grew up surrounded by military personnel and i understand first hand what those families go through. It brings great joy to me to see the difference this organization and Mary Cortani can make in the lives of our Veterans and their families. As a dog owner and lover the fact that OFP uses dogs from Shelters and local rescue groups is another great reason to support this organization. If you are in need or our services, want to volunteer or donate to our cause you can find more information on our Website, www.operationfreedompaws.org

3

Advisor

Rating: 5

Operation Freedom Paws is great to work with. I've helped with their social media and video and their people, work, and mission is top-notch. They help improve the lives of animals and veterans. Does it get better than that???!!!

Review from Guidestar

5

Client Served

Rating: 5

I am a disabled veteran with PTSD, and hearing loss. I was recommended to get a service dog by my Dr. Soon after I found Operation Freedoms Paws and they changed my life. Mary Cortani as well as the mentor trainers provided amazing instruction. Not only did they teach me to train my own dog, but the classes and relationships I have made have been wonder therapy for me as well. I am blessed to have an amazing service dog. He helps me negotiate the world and provide be with a more normal life.

3 Jennifer132

Client Served

Rating: 5

I spent over a decade essentially housebound, afraid to go out and face the world. I was referred to Operation Freedoms Paws and Mary Cortani through the VA, and it has changed my life. I was paired with Shadow, and am now able to not only do daily activities such as shopping, walking around the block, etc., but I am starting to be able to do much more. Just recently I attended a family baby shower - and it had been over 12 years since I have been able to go to a family event. There are not enough good things to say about this organization. They have truly changed my life for the better.

6 Chris73

Client Served

Rating: 5

Mary Cortani, the founder of Operation Freedoms Paws, helped my son when no one else would. My 14 year old son has cerebral palsy and wanted a service dog to help him with physical tasks, as well as be his companion. While there are many organizations that train service dogs, there are none locally that will certify anyone under 18 years of age or help you train your own dog. Both my son and I are working through the certification process with his dog, Enzo. During the past 8 months, Mary has spent over 64 hours training with us and has never asked for anything in return. She donates her time, for classes held just about every day of the week where veterans, and those with physical disabilities, train their own service dogs. Besides giving her time, she gives her heart to all those around her. She is truly amazing. There are others who volunteer their time too, as a way to give back to Mary and Operation Freedoms Paws. It's hard to understand how special this organization is until you've been to classes with Operation Freedoms Paws - if you can imagine an extremely supportive environment for those leading difficult lives, where training your dog is a joyful and healing experience, that's Operation Freedoms Paws.

5

Client Served

Rating: 5

I am both a volunteer and a client of OFP. My service dog is tasked with helping me with agoraphobia, anxiety and depression. I started as a volunteer and I raise puppies for matching with the veterans and people with needs. The compassion and care given to every person who walks through the doors is unsurpassed. Mary Cortani's skills with both people and dogs makes for a unique and powerful combination. This organization is a train the trainer program and has impacted every client the moment they walk through the door!

Review from Guidestar