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Operation Freedoms Paws

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Community Stories

35 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

Client Served

Rating: 5

I am a 70 year old female veteran. I am in a power wheelchair, am diabetic, have TBI, PTSD, serious balance issues etc. Obviously not someone that is an "easy case". I tried for about 4 years to get a service dog. Contacted the VA, and every agency that trains dogs that I could find all over the U.S. I pretty much decided to give it one last try when I contacted operation Freedom Paws.
When they told me to come down for an interview I will admit I was terrified they would turn me away. I was/am at a point where a three year waiting list was just too daunting to take on.
I still can't believe they accepted me (part of my PTSD etc makes it really difficult to see any worth in myself). I have been matched with a beautiful soul...a black lab named Tebow. We live almost a thousand miles away and it is not easy.......but it is beyond worth it.
Thanks to OFP and Tebow I am more hopeful about my life than I have been in years.

Review from Guidestar

1 Rey O.

Client Served

Rating: 5

It has been one year since I finished this program. It has made a huge difference in my life. Operation Freedom Paws has an excellent staff of volunteers who really care for their clients. Mary Cortani is very passionate about helping veterans and non veterans who have disabilities that are seen and unseen. This program saves lives; it has saved mine.

1 Writer

Client Served

Rating: 5

Operation Freedom Paws - 4 paws, 2 feet, 1 team. For some strange reason, I thought I would be the team leader. My service dog, Linda, is a Black Lab and a career change dog. Bred to be a guide dog for the blind, she didn’t make the cut--too much personality. Linda can also be a bit demanding. You see, I have multiple sclerosis and I guess you could also call her my caregiver. When I am tired (which happens often), she tells me when to sit down or when to lie down and take a nap. She tells me when I need to get up and start moving around. Linda provides the balance that I lack. She comforts me when my memory fails, which helps me regain my thoughts. Add these things together and I have more confidence in myself. As for me being the team leader, things are much better when Linda is in charge.

Review from Guidestar

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2

Client Served

Rating: 5

I have multiple sclerosis and I am amazed with what Operation Freedom Paws can do with people. They add one service dog and lives are changed. I have found the more confidence I have in my dog, the more confidence I have in myself. Four paws, two feet, one team. Once I realized that I am not the team leader, the easier everything else was. If I am not sure what to do, I have learned to trust the dog.

1

Client Served

Rating: 5

I became a client with Operation Freedom Paws in late 2010. Very shortly after beginning the process I realized that this was going to be much more than dog training. OFP literally saved my life (more than once) in my darkest days. They have brought me closer to my wife and children, and have included me into the OFP family.
With the help of Mary Cortani and her staff I am walking proud and have found a new mission in life- helping others build a new life as a Mentor Trainer with Operation Freedom Paws.

Review from Guidestar

kathywadd

Client Served

Rating: 5

Words cannot express my gratitude for OFP. I received a diabetic alert dog from another agency for 15K and she had no public access skills. OFP took me into their program free of charge in 2015 and today she is a different dog. She has all the behavioural skills necessary to be a service dog. Not only does she alert me to out of healthy range blood sugars, she has also assisted me with recognizing my fatigue due to my Multiple Sclerosis. She has also helped me up after falls and helps calm my anxiety. I am so impressed with the integrity of this non-profit in all areas of their business. They are truly saving veterans and dogs lives everyday. It has become my passion to volunteer for OFP to help others experience this life changing love!





Review from Guidestar

Previous Stories
1

Client Served

Rating: 5

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!


Review from Guidestar

2 Denny M.

Board Member

Rating: 5

I have been involved with Operation Freedom Paws for over 4 years now. I started as a client with my dog Abbey in July 2012. Abbey and I became a certified team in June 2013. This program has saved my life and given me a new purpose. OFP has become a very important part of my and my family's life. We have continued in training and now I also serve as a Board Member which I have found to be very rewarding. Seeing changes in lives of other clients as well as my own has been one of the greatest things to be apart of. This is a wonderful organization and I honored to be to be serving with it.

Review from Guidestar

Previous Stories
1

Client Served

Rating: 5

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.

Review from Guidestar

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Janet34

Client Served

Rating: 5

I have been involved with Operation Freedom Paws since 2012. I was a volunteer, then a customer, then a client, then a staff member. I envisioned my retirement quite differently, but I am passionate about OFP , its methods, and its clients. Over 2 million dogs are euthanized in the US every year. Doctors are learning that service dogs can help with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, diabetes, seizures, autism, allergen detection....the list is constantly growing. By using rescued dogs and teaching the client to train his/her own dog for his/her specific disabilities, OFP creates a healing bond that is hard to describe, but a joy to witness. I have my own service dog, a rescued pit bull whom I trained under OFP's guidance to help me with my life-threatening peanut allergy. On her own, she figured out how to help me with the anxiety that is part of a serious food allergy like mine, as well as with pain management from a 40-year old back injury. OFP has changed my life, and I've watched the lives of many other people change since 2012. I'm proud to give OFP a 5-star review.

Review from Guidestar

Previous Stories
2

Client Served

Rating: 5

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.

Review from Guidestar

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2

Client Served

Rating: 5

Excellent experience for us and our two malamutes! We work out of state and have to rely on referrals for dog boarding. A veterinary office, with exceptionally good reviews, highly recommended Operation Freedom Paws for boarding.

The employees were very welcoming, kind and extremely knowledgable about dogs and service animals (I am also a dog trainer). Our dogs were calm and stress-free as we were given the tour of their facility.

After initially calling around to find expensive and not-so-accommodating kennel arrangements, we were very happy that Operation Freedom Paws let our dogs stay together and play outdoors a lot. They have good boarding prices and lots of activity for dogs.

Our dogs looked happy and very comfortable with employees - and not in a hurry to leave the facility.

Thank you!

1

Client Served

Rating: 5

Operation Freedom Paws has changed our lives by providing the tools and support so that my husband can navigate his changed world. When you walk through their doors you feel as though you've found your second family. I have seen first hand the dedication, commitment and selfless giving that goes on by Mary and her crew every day - it is awesome and impactful.

3

Client Served

Rating: 5

Operation Freedom Paws is doing amazing work. As a civilian client, I have had the pleasure of training our family pet. During this time, I was able to witness the transformation of mind, body & spirit. Now as a longtime volunteer I have watched the program become a holistic model for the Veteran, their spouses and children. As the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran, I understand the impact of PTSD I know that OFP’s mission is changing and saving the lives every day.

3 Renatodato

Client Served

Rating: 5

Jack Kerouac once alluded to life as being more crucial in the "how" rather than the "why" we live our lives. Mary Cortani has solved this puzzle; that, the meaningfulness of life is what we impart to it; that, it is in the giving that one receives. In 2013, after more than 40 years, I made an appointment at the VA in Palo Alto. The doctors there determined that I had the classic symptoms of PTSD. Symptoms, I thought, were normal. Enter Operation Freedom Paws. Thanks to this fine organization and its staff of dedicated volunteers, I'm learning a new normal. All of a sudden, my focus and attention revolved around training and caring for my service dog. Distraction therapy? Brilliant, Mary Cortani! It has been 9 months of training and my life has undergone a palpable metamorphosis; a metamorphosis from the "why" to the "how" I live my life. Thank you, OFP, for saving my life.

1

Client Served

Rating: 5

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.

Review from Guidestar

2 Donna191

Client Served

Rating: 5

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!!

2 Bonnie75

Client Served

Rating: 5

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'.

2

Client Served

Rating: 5

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

3 Gwen9

Client Served

Rating: 5

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.

3 Mel B.

Client Served

Rating: 5

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

3

Client Served

Rating: 5

Thanks to all the people at Operation Freedom Paw I have been regaining my confident. I now am able to go to parties and gathering where there are a lot of people and feel more comfortable and enjoy the event.

My husband enjoy this new found freedom as well. He dose not have me glue to him the whole time with a vice grip on his arm.

Review from Guidestar

3

Client Served

Rating: 5

Thank you Operation Freedom Paws for giving my life back to me. Being outdoors, in crowds, anxiety, depression can now be managed with the help of Bochy, my service dog.

Mary and her team provide excellent support and training, and along the way I have learned a lot about myself. I was amazed how quickly I was accepted into the program. Waiting lists for some programs can be 2-5 years. In my case it was only a few weeks before Bochy and I were matched.

As a non-Veteran, finding a service dog program can be difficult. Mary and team welcomed me with open arms and continue to support Bochy and myself.

Programs like Operation Freedom Paws save lives and it is because of the amazing work Mary and her team proves.

Thank you Operation Freedom Paws!!

Review from Guidestar

1

Client Served

Rating: 5

Mary and the OFP staff and volunteers are the most unselfish and giving group of people I've ever come across. Mary is hands in and giving of her time in more ways than I can verbalize. OFP has given me the tools to help me deal with my disability and try to manage everyday life as best I can. This is a great organization.

Review from Guidestar