Give Back Denver is monthly series to showcase worthy organizations in the Denver area that really do good in this world, and who could use your help. I am hoping if you don’t live in Denver, this will inspire you to go out in your community and find something that matters to YOU, as well.
Below, we talked to Erin from Freedom Service Dogs who tells us all about the organization and how you can be part of this incredible organization.
Why was Freedom Service Dogs started? How has it grown or changed over time?
Freedom Service Dogs was first started in 1987 by Michael and P.J. Roche. Michael was injured during an ambulance run as a paramedic instructor and was left as a quadriplegic. P.J. was a canine obedience trainer and saw how a specially trained dog could give Michael his independence. We still maintain the original goal of the founders and seek to increase the independence and quality of life for individuals with disabilities.
Since the conception of Freedom Service Dogs we have increased the programs that we provide and increased the types of disabilities and individuals that we match up with our service dogs.
In 2008, we moved into our current building and with the increased space was able to start a couple new programs; Operation Freedom, Pawsitive Connections, and Professional Therapy Dogs.
Operation Freedom was first started in 2008 after moving into our current building. Operation Freedom was developed with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to benefit U.S military personnel and veterans. Operation Freedom’s ultimate goal is to help returning war veterans and military personnel transition from active duty and combat to civilian life. Service members and veterans are placed with highly specialized service dogs that help them find a new level of independence in their post-combat life. More information on this program can be found on:http://freedomservicedogs.org/programs/operation-freedom/
Pawsitive Connection was first started in 2008 as well. Pawsitive Connection pairs together at-risk youth with abandoned dogs creating a program that benefits both. The program works with at-risk youth in a variety of settings from schools to juvenile justice systems. Occasionally the program also works with adults that may benefit from the program. More information on this program can be found on: https://freedomservicedogs.org/programs/pawsitive-connection/
Professional Therapy Dogs is a program that allows us to match shelter dogs with people assisting those in their community in need of therapeutic support. In order to qualify for a therapy dog, you must be a psychologist, social worker, therapist, occupational therapist or seeking a degree in those fields. The therapy dogs provided are dogs that did not meet the qualifications to become a service dog but still be capable of living a happy fulfilling life as a therapy dog. More information on this program can be found on: https://freedomservicedogs.org/programs/professional-therapy-dogs/
Can you tell me a little about the work your organization does?
We have several programs that have different goals in mind. Overall we seek to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities. Our client-dog team program is geared toward individuals with disabilities such as autism, down syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and many others. We also do community outreach with our Pawsitive Connection program. We primarily work with at-risk youth and pair abandoned dogs with them for a 8 or 10 week program. Operation Freedom is geared toward helping veterans transition from active duty to civilian life.
What differentiates you from other similar organizations in Denver?
Rescue Dogs: FSD takes in dogs from shelters and rescue groups from various parts of the country and custom trains them to become amazing service dogs. FSD does not have a puppy-breeding or raising program. Our experience is that there are plenty of unwanted dogs in shelters that are eager to get that second chance and a whole new career. Since our start in 1987, we have found that with dedicated training these dogs become heroes to those with disabilities, transforming their lives forever.
Custom Training: FSD matches dogs to their new partner and custom trains the dog to do the specific tasks required by each individual.
Provide Lifetime Support: FSD maintains contact with clients to provide annual recertification for the service dog and give hands-on support in new skill development.
Positive Training Methods: FSD uses positive reinforcement – click/treat – to shape play behaviors (retrieve, tug, paw, touch) into helpful tasks. FSD service dogs wag while they work!
What do you think people would say is the best thing about working with Freedom Service Dogs?
For the clients that we serve, we offer lifetime support and hands-on assistance. We also provide the clients with service dogs for no charge. We know the process for getting a service dog is long and arduous and we do not seek to make it any more difficult.
The volunteers here are amazing and truly dedicated. All the volunteers love dogs and helping others. They offer us tremendous support and are always willing to help and devote their time and effort. In return we seek to make volunteering with us a painless process. Volunteers are allowed to set their own schedules and tasks. They are welcome to interact with the dogs, though we do ask that they pass a couple tests before they are allowed full access to all of the dogs.
How can Denver locals get involved with Freedom Service Dogs? What is your greatest need and what can we do to help you?
We are always seeking support from individuals and the community. Volunteering is an essential part of FSD’s success. Even just 4 hours a month is a huge difference. Volunteers are needed everywhere in our organization from the office to the kennels to special events.
Even just coming to play with the dogs in the play yard is a significant help to alleviate the dogs mood. Simply coming in and spending quiet time with the dogs in the kennel does wonders for the dogs stress level. Fostering is key to reducing the dogs stress and it also provides valuable practice for when the dogs are placed in their real homes in the future. In order to foster, volunteers must attend a weekender/foster class. Children older than 16 can volunteer by themselves and children over the age of 12 can volunteer with a parent. Volunteers over 18 must complete a background check which costs $18. For those interested in volunteering with us, more information can be found here: https://freedomservicedogs.org/volunteer/
Fundraising is necessary to ensure that FSD can continue to help enhance individual’s lives with disabilities. Any fundraising ideas are great and always appreciated. Even starting a fundraiser in your office can make a difference and help us help more people. More information on setting up fundraisers can be found here: https://freedomservicedogs.org/volunteer/donation-drives-and-3rd-party-fundraisers/
There are a variety of fundraising events that we host, and are seeking sponsors, donations of auction items, and attendees. More information can be found here: http://freedomservicedogs.org/events/
We are always looking for items to be donated as well. Gift cards, Toys, Crates for dogs about 50-100 pounds, Dog Beds, Kongs or other durable dog toys, 6’ leashes and easy walk harnesses, flea and tick preventative, cleaning supplies, and office supplies. The full wish list can be found here:https://freedomservicedogs.org/donate/wish-list-donation/
Last but not least, simply helping raise awareness about our organization and what we do with the public is so important. The more the public knows that we exist, the more support we will have. Simply telling others about our work can be the single most important thing that you can do. We are moving to a new facility that will be more than double the size of our existing building in mid-August. More information here: https://freedomservicedogs.org/donate/tail-of-transformation/
The Freedom Service Dog Difference
- Rescue Dogs: FSD rescues dogs from various parts of the country and custom trains them to become amazing service dogs. FSD does not have a puppy-breeding or raising program. Our experience is that there are plenty of unwanted dogs in shelters that are eager to get that second chance and a whole new career. Since our start in 1987, we have found that with dedicated training these dogs become heroes to those with disabilities, transforming their lives forever.
- Custom Training: FSD matches dogs to their new partner and custom trains the dog to do the specific tasks required by each individual.
- Provide Lifetime Support: FSD maintains contact with clients to provide annual recertification for the service dog and give hands-on support in new skill development.
- Positive Training Methods: FSD uses positive reinforcement – click/treat – to shape play behaviors (retrieve, tug, paw, touch) into helpful tasks. FSD service dogs wag while they work!
You can read more about the programs Freedom Service Dogs offer, including client-dog teams and professional therapy dogs HERE.
Freedom Service Dogs is one of the only organizations in the USA to rescue dogs from shelters, custom train them for service and provide them to clients at no cost. You can donate by clicking HERE.