Service dogs provide independence for individuals with disabilities—they are trained to be the eyes and ears for their owners, as well as offering comfort and safety. For some disabled military veterans and first responders in the Greater Peoria area, Freedom Paws Service Dogs—a new Chillicothe-based nonprofit—has been a godsend.
“I started Freedom Paws because I was actually looking for a service dog for myself,” says Corey James, a retired military veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He and his wife Teresa, who has been training and fostering dogs for several years, started the organization in April. “I knew I wanted to help veterans like myself, and I knew these dogs could help them.”
Substantial evidence exists for the long-term therapeutic effects of live-in therapy dogs for those suffering from PTSD—including a decrease in the use of prescription drugs. Stephen Causey, retired U.S. Air Force veteran, received his dog, Dakota, from Freedom Paws. He attributes a newfound sense of freedom and security to having her by his side. “I’ve been doing things that I had written out of my life,” he explains. “She does so much for me—it’s incredible.”
Corey and Teresa, along with other volunteers, work with the veterans to train the dogs. “We tailor each dog’s training according to the veteran or first responder’s needs,” Corey notes. “We purchase our puppies from select breeders who have a proven track record of breeding quality Labradors.”
Freedom Paws Service Dogs relies on public and private donations. For more information or to apply for a service dog, visit freedompawsservicedogs.org. PM