Both dogs and humans are given new lives in Fanny Bay’s Operation Freedom Paws.
“You know, we call it saving both ends of the leash, so to speak, the dog saves the person, the person saves the dog,” says managing director Barb Ashmead.
The nonprofit that was founded in California trains rescue dogs with veterans and civilians living with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury to form service teams.
“We pair them with a rescue dog and run them through a very unique 48-week training program, they have to train with us twice a week,” says Ashmead.
“When they’re done, they take the BC Guide and Service Dog Assessment Test, and they also do a test of ours called A Day in the Life of a Service Dog,” adds Ashmead.
One of the island residents who has benefited from OFP is Steven Knox and his dog Timber. Knox suffered a brain injury while serving in the military 11 years ago and decided to give the program a try last year.
“In the past, most of my complaints or concerns were controlled with medication, while now I take very little medication,” says Knox.
“The haze is gone and I’m enjoying life again … I think the biggest change for me was literally getting wood,” adds Knox.
“Timber actually jumped up and licked his face to tell him you need to sit down for a while because you are in pain, and that is the big key in teaching him to listen to his dog,” says Ashmead. “You may not want to sit down because you are used to going through everything while we tell you to sit down, take some time, relax, and then come back to us when you are ready.”
After a year in business, the Vancouver Island community is also becoming aware of this and increasing it with several fundraising campaigns such as Pauliina Saarinen’s OFP calendar competition. People from all over the island can donate a $ 10 photo of their dog and have the chance to win multiple prizes and a place on the calendar.
It’s community posts like this that helped the program get through the pandemic.
“The local shops here have been excellent,” says Knox. “When I go for a walk, curiosity is great [Timber]. “
“When we started the pandemic it was tough, but we worked very hard to keep the program going and to keep it going,” says Ashmead. “So we see that the circle is coming full circle.”
To donate or submit a dog photo, visit the contest website.