Amid the continuing spread of the coronavirus, the majority of nonprofits are struggling to provide services while operating on minimal resources. Here’s one nonprofit that provides service dogs to people with disabilities, such as veterans with PTS, children with autism, and adults with spinal cord injuries.
Freedom Service Dogs is based in Colorado and has been operating since 1987 by providing clients with trained dogs to help them feel supported and become more independent.
The organization has since trained hundreds of dogs and has placed hundreds of others into new and ‘forever homes.’
Today, Michele Ostrander, President and CEO of Freedom Service Dogs, describes the challenges the organization is facing during this world crisis.
There is a lot of uncertainty around how the organization will move forward.
“Our trainers will be back on site by mid-May with a staggered schedule that allows for social distancing and other safety precautions, but how do we continue to sustain our organization over the long-haul as the economic impact continues? How do we maintain safety of our staff and volunteers without adequate testing and vaccines? And how do we support our applicants and clients in this new normal?”
Working Through It All
- The organization is still accepting applications for trained pets at www.freedomservicedogs.org and is conducting interviews via Zoom.
- Delays in training will result in increased wait times for a service dogs
- Trainers provide weekly zoom calls to support fosters but training has effectively stopped — is now delaying the organization’s ability to get service dogs to people with disabilities.
- Approximately half of Freedom Service Dogs’ staff are able to work from home.
- Animal health care staff is on-site to treat any medical issues (one pregnant dog, Bean, is due to give birth on May 15).
“This pandemic has not stopped the need for service dogs for veterans with PTS, children with autism, and adults with spinal cord injuries,” says Ostrander.
“We have revised our projected revenue for 2020 by more than 20% and have cut any non-critical mission work expenses. We have cancelled one fundraiser and anticipate having to cancel more, which is moving us to online fundraising and increased our outreach to steward our long-time donors. We are grateful for the funders who pivoted quickly to provide emergency COVID-19 grants which are critical as we weather this ongoing crisis.”
Their Message to the Public
“We want the community to know that we will be here through and after this pandemic to serve people with disabilities,” states Ostrander.
“Those of us here at Freedom Service Dogs continue to be amazed by what a profound difference acquiring a service dog can make in the lives of people with disabilities.”
The Magic Behind A Service Dog
Having a service dog has allowed many people with disabilities to reclaim their independence. Ostrander tells the story of Eddie, a 21-year veteran of the U. S. Army who served four tours in Afghanistan and returned home with post-traumatic stress (PTS) [and] was matched with his FSD service dog, Alfredo, in December. This brave and humble veteran says: ‘The Army left me torn and broken, with visible and invisible disabilities, but it also made me the man I am today. It has given me the greatest things in my life: my wife and three kids, my pet dog, and now my battle buddy, Alfredo.’
During their two-week placement class at FSD last fall, Eddie and Alfredo practiced basic training cues and learned specialized cues to help alleviate the symptoms of PTS. They also made a successful shopping trip to Target during the holiday season – a major milestone for Eddie, who had not been to a store in over seven years due to the anxiety caused by crowds. Even more amazingly, with his service dog by his side, Eddie’s confidence has increased so greatly that the team recently traveled to Houston for the NAPE Expo, a huge gathering and marketplace for the oil and gas industry, where Eddie and Alfredo proudly accepted a check presented by Nikki Haley, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, on behalf of Freedom Service Dogs.
Eddie shared: ‘Words cannot express how happy and grateful I am to FSD. Because I was partnered with Alfredo, Freedom Service Dogs has saved my life and has given me a second chance to live my life to the fullest. I hope to receive many years of comfort, love, and help from my battle buddy, Alfredo.’
“It is because of individuals like Eddie that we will do all in our power to ensure we can provide life-changing service dogs to people in need,” says Ostrander.