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Operation Freedom Paws - Small, but Mighty

Founder Mary Cortani has just matched her 119th veteran/service dog team in two and one half years. For all of those who work with Operation Freedom Paws (OFP), the results have been incredibly rewarding!

OFP typically uses shelter dogs, one to two years old, which are often on track to be put down. This not only cuts down on waiting time, but also saves a dog's life. OFP is also willing to train a dog that is already owned by the person-half of the team, as long as the dog meets service-dog qualifications.

At OFP, they work with all breeds, including mutts. The important characteristics are energy level, drive, and the personality to become a good service dog and do the tasks their owner needs. Because the dog and veteran are matched and trained together from the beginning, the veteran has a new mission and the dog is working with his/her permanent handler from day one.

OFP's program takes approximately a year to complete, depending on the dog and handler. Veterans are required to attend at least one training session a week, and must continue with their VA appointments. Sometimes that time committment is a challenge, which can result in training taking longer. Cortani also identifies specific students, usually veterans, to become mentor-trainers so that they help run classes. This allows Cortani to work with new students and accommodate the many requests OFP receives. To date, no one who has been prescribed a service dog has been turned away from OFP.

In classes that combine pre- and post-911 veterans, civilian service-dog trainers and people obedience-training their pets, veterans begin to feel more comfortable with non-veterans. Class is a safe place for all students, with a camaraderie that replicates the feeling of family.

For more information on Operation Freedom Paws or to see how you can help, check out OFP's website at http://www.operationfreedompaws.org/.