When Joshua Leeds and I presented at the annual Association of Pet Dog Trainers conference in October, we met so many inspirational trainers, behaviorists, and dog lovers, amongst a huge variety of dog professionals. One woman in particular, Beth Russell, caught our attention because of a very unique service dog organization that she started called Freedom Dogs. This remarkable organization offers custom-trained specialty service dogs to wounded members of the military returning from armed conflict.
Freedom Dogs’ mission is to create a way to speed the recovery and enhance the lives of wounded military heroes through the use of specialty-trained service dogs. Joshua and I asked Beth how we could help. She told us that Freedom Dogs’ trainers are always interested in methods that enhance their training of these very special dogs as well as assist them in helping the young persons reintegrate back into society so they can lead fulfilling lives. We donated music for their training classes and we were so pleased to hear recently that Through a Dog’s Ear music is one of the tools that is helping Freedom Dogs accomplish their mission.
As training sessions begin, Music to Calm your Canine Companion is played. Beth said “This music has had a significant impact on the dogs, the marines, and the trainers. Dogs settle more quickly and seem to be more focused on the tasks at hand. The Marines calm and body tensions ease. And the trainers comment on how they feel relaxed and better prepared to handle the stress of the work with the dogs and Marines. This is especially helpful when we hold our training clinics where there are many dogs (of varying ages and levels of training) and trainers and Marines in one room working together.”
I was very moved when I learned how much Through a Dog’s Ear was helping these dogs and Marines. In asking her more about Freedom Dogs, I learned that their programs consist of two distinct entities:
The Partner Program pairs a Specialty Service Dog with a wounded warrior on a part time basis, as an adjunct to his/her rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Dogs often work with a wounded warrior for a specific time frame and then have that warrior pass the leash to another wounded warrior who has VERY different needs. The dogs need to adjust on the spot, and they do!
The Partner for Life Program places a Specialty Service Dog with a wounded warrior on a permanent basis. These dogs do not fit neatly into any service dog category as they are trained to work with more than one disability in one person, or with varying disabilities in multiple people. There are very few training facilities willing to train these special dogs, as it is quite time consuming and tedious. The cost is nearly double that of training other service dogs.
The Freedom Dogs’ trainers volunteer approximately 10-12 hours a week and travel an average of 70 miles one way. In addition to Music to Calm your Canine Companion being played during classes, Driving Edition: Music to Calm your Dog in the Caris played as the dogs go to and from the sessions. Beth says, “The dogs become totally relaxed while riding in the car. This seems to help them work through the many different needs some of the young men and women have.”
There are over 40,000 injured service members returning from combat. The signature injuries of this war are TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Of all returning service persons, over 40% suffer from PTSD. Currently, suicide deaths have taken a greater toll on the troops than combat injuries. These very special dogs are working to curb these alarming statistics one hero at a time. Through a Dog’s Ear is honored and humbled to be helping the dogs, trainers, and Marines.