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Review for Operation Freedoms Paws, Gilroy, CA, USA

Rating: 5 stars  

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.

Role:  Client Served