Solar only had hours left before he was to be put down; the shelter he called home was simply out of space. But just as he was running out of time, a prison K-9 training program came to his rescue. After completing initial training at the prison, Freedom Service Dogs (FSD) acquired the young dog, hoping he’d be a fit for their service dog program.
Jon came to FSD hoping a service dog could help him maintain his independent life. Muscular dystrophy left him unable to walk, reliant on a power wheelchair for mobility. He needed help opening and closing doors, picking up items on the floor and similar activities. FSD brought Jon and Solar together, one more perfect match.
“My biggest hope was that a service dog could eliminate the need for asking people to help with things I can’t do,” Jon says. It was quickly apparent that Solar would do that and more. “I can rely on Solar to open heavy doors and pick up things I drop,” he explains. “But more than that, he is my devoted best friend, my constant companion, my lifeline and my infinite power source.”
Jon and Solar’s story is just one of many since FSD first opened its doors in 1987. Founded by PJ and Michael Roche, the non-profit’s mission is to unleash the potential of dogs by transforming them into custom-trained, life-changing assistance dogs for people in need.
“Our dogs truly change the lives of their clients, and impact everything from improved physical and mental health, to quality of life, community integration and independence,” explains Karen Moldovan, grants and foundation relations manager for FSD. “Navigating the world with a disability can be very challenging, but receiving a custom-trained service dog at no cost can literally and figuratively open so many doors.”
Unlike many service dog organizations, FSD relies exclusively on rescue dogs. In 2017 alone, FSD welcomed 198 dogs from shelters and rescue groups into its training center. Following comprehensive medical and behavioral evaluations, those dogs not deemed suitable for a career in service are adopted to loving, forever homes through FSD’s adoption program.
FSD relies on a dedicated team of volunteers to help care for the dogs on site, foster dogs on the weekends, and assist with training. Ann Pollock, a regular FSD helper, sums up the organization’s work like this: “At FSD, we take dogs who have been thrown away and give them a chance to shine as a well-trained pet, therapy canine or service dog.”