INSPIRED IMPACT is an ongoing blog series that gives voice to social entrepreneurs and leaders of mission-driven organizations who are making an impact in their communities and industries.

 



 

Michele OstranderMichele Ostrander is the President & CEO of Freedom Service Dogs. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and learn more at freedomservicedogs.org.

 

WHAT DO YOU DO?
Freedom Service Dogs unleashes the potential of shelter dogs by transforming them into custom-trained, life-changing assistance dogs for people in need. Our clients include veterans and active duty military, as well as children and other adults with disabilities, including autism, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We provide specialized training for potential service dogs and a lifetime of ongoing support for our clients—and thanks to the generosity of our donors, we provide service dogs to all our clients at no charge.

 

WHY DO YOU DO IT?
People with mobility impairment must overcome challenges for even the simplest life tasks: picking up dropped keys, opening doors, turning on a light, getting the remote control, transferring to and from a wheelchair, and locating the phone in case of emergency.

Since our start in 1987, we have found that with dedicated training, service dogs become heroes to those with disabilities, transforming their lives forever. Freedom Service Dogs matches dogs to their new partner and custom trains the dog to do the specific tasks required by each individual. Our service dogs can assist with opening doors, finding and picking up items, pulling wheelchairs, turning lights on and off, retrieving items from the refrigerator, removing coats or shoes, and pushing a Lifeline or 911 button. They can also be trained to wake a veteran from a nightmare, keep anxiety-producing crowds away from their human, or intervene to stop stimming behaviors in a child with autism.

 

WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
Since being founded in 1987, we have graduated more than 400 client/dog teams. Every year, we rescue more than 150 dogs in partnership with shelters and rescues in Colorado and surrounding states. Those that are released from our training program are adopted out into forever homes.

For returning war veterans transitioning from active duty and combat to civilian life, and for children and adults with disabilities, service dogs help perform a multitude of tasks that increase the independence of their human partners. What was once impossible becomes possible as our clients experience a newfound sense of freedom and independence due to their service dogs. Other benefits include reduced anxiety, increased comfort and self-confidence in social situations, and an enhanced quality of life for themselves and their families.

 

WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO MAKE THIS IMPACT?
At Freedom Service Dogs, our family—volunteers and staff—is a passionate group. We dedicate our time, energy, and talents because we love dogs, we want to help individuals with disabilities become more independent, and we believe in our mission and the transformational power of service dogs.

 

WHAT’S YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE ORGANIZATION AND THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
Our goal is to be the leader in the assistance dog field. With our new training center, talented staff, dedicated volunteers, and amazing community of supporters, FSD is poised to double the services we provide in the coming years, helping even more individuals and their families. Along the way, we want to reduce the wait time for our clients, graduate more expertly trained assistance dogs, and advocate for the needs of people with disabilities, veterans, and children on the autism spectrum.

 

WHAT RESOURCES DO YOU NEED TO MAKE THOSE DREAMS COME TRUE?
It truly takes a village to train our dogs, match them with deserving clients, and provide lifetime support to our teams—all free of charge. We always need—and are so grateful for—the generous donors and sponsors who so willingly underwrite these efforts. We can always use more caring volunteers to help out at our training center or provide in-home foster care for dogs-in-training. And, very specifically, we’re currently seeking a donor who will contribute the funds for a new wheelchair-accessible van to transport both our clients and their dogs.

 

WHAT IS (OR HAS BEEN) YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGE?
At the moment, our greatest challenge is finding enough shelter and rescue dogs that are appropriate candidates for service dogs and are capable of making it through our intensive, six- to nine-month training program. We have very high standards at FSD, and it takes a very special dog to become one of our service dogs, companion dogs, or professional therapy dogs. At any given point, FSD has upwards of 70 individuals on our waiting list, with some of those who need service dogs for brace and balance waiting as much as two years. That is simply too long to wait when you are in need.

With our new home, we have increased our capacity for dogs-in-training and increased the number of caretakers, dog trainers, and volunteers. This past year, we graduated 29 assistance dogs, and we have a goal of graduating 40 well-trained, quality assistance dogs in 2018.

 

WHAT WORDS OF ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER LEADERS LOOKING TO MAKE AN IMPACT?
Find your passion. When your work aligns with your passion, you find the time, energy, and dedication needed to make an impact. I am inspired daily by the individuals we serve—the combat veteran who can now attend her child’s soccer game, the young woman who has the confidence to enroll in college, and the child who can bridge the social divide to make new friends—all because of their Freedom Service Dogs.

 

HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
We receive all of our funding from individual donors, family foundations, and some government grants. You can help Freedom Service Dogs by making a donation of any amount; sponsoring, hosting or attending an FSD fundraising event; or becoming a volunteer. To learn more about all these opportunities, please visit freedomservicedogs.org.

 


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