the dogs who serve those who serve
“Of the 70 dogs who live at our facility, about half will go to jail.”
It’s just part of the process, explains Erin Conley, the Marketing and PR director with Freedom Service Dogs. When a dog first arrives at the facility, they work one-on-one with trainers and get off-leash play days with other doggie friends. For weeks, each dog is evaluated and placed into one of three groups: some dogs are put up for adoption, and find a loving home. Another group of dogs gets therapy dog training. The third group of dogs are the ones with service dog potential. That’s why they go to jail.
Freedom Service Dogs gets a lot of letters sent from jail. Not from the dogs, though. The letters come from human inmates who help to train the dogs, play with them, and help them learn manners. The letters say thank you: thank you for sending the dogs who become friends to the inmates during their three months in jail.
The inmates are just one group of people who benefits from the work of Freedom Service Dogs - the jail program is a wonderful side effect. Besides benefitting the dogs (who are all rescues), the organization also benefits vulnerable people who are given new life by a service dog. Autistic people find a comforting friend, and handicapped people find a loyal companion who can help them open doors and load laundry.
Perhaps the most inspiring relationships that the service dogs form are with veterans returning from combat. With keen instincts, thorough training, and steadfast loyalty, a service dog can work wonders for soldiers with post traumatic stress. When a veteran gets home, the service dog can go through the house, turning on lights and checking each room to make sure it’s clear. The service dog can wake a human up out of a nightmare. In public, the dog can form a buffer between its human and others. At the same time, the dogs are great conversation-starters.
All these benefits of service dogs seem miraculous— the catch is that they can only happen after extensive training. After returning from jail, each prospective service dog is matched up with a human who needs it. Some people wait for years for the right service dog, and Ms. Conley describes describes a “magic moment” that happens when a human in need reaches the top of the organization’s waiting list and then encounters the perfect dog for the first time: smiles, a tear or two, lots and lots of wags.
After this meeting, the dog goes through one more training period, for 4-6 months, to tailor its temperament and skill set to best help its new owner, who gets to adopt the new service dog, free of charge.
So the program benefits dogs, inmates, and people who need service dogs. On top of that, it benefits the staff at Freedom Service Dogs, who find deep joy in connecting dogs with people. “I came here to work with the dogs, and stayed for the people,” says Ms. Conley. When asked what she would change about the organization, if she had one wish, she says: “Shorter waiting periods. We have people who really need a service dog, who sometimes have to wait for years. So that means we need more resources for training more dogs.”
We have the same wish. More dogs means more wags, and more service. We’re proud to support the program by donating 10% of all sales from our beautiful ‘doggie paddle’ glassybaby, as well as 10% of all august web sales. May your dog days of summer be full of smiles, service, and wags.