2018 Summer Graduating Teams
Eight teams honored in June
On June 23, eight client-dog teams graduated from Freedom Service Dogs during an emotion-filled ceremony at Parker Arts, Culture & Events Center. Families and friends of the honorees joined FSD staff, volunteers, and other guests to celebrate the graduates and their canine counterparts: six service dogs, one skilled companion dog, and one professional therapy dog.
In the two weeks leading up to graduation, the dogs and their new human partners attended placement class at FSD’s training center, where they built on months of training the dogs had previously received through Colorado’s Prison Trained K-9 Companion Program and from our own professional trainers. During those final weeks, each dog was custom trained to assist their owner with specific tasks, while the owners learned basic dog care and behavior, practiced commands, and bonded with their dogs.
The graduating dogs represented the wide range of sources that FSD relies on to acquire service dog candidates, including a Labrador retriever rescue, a local shelter, a private donor, and Colorado’s Prison Trained K-9 Companion Program, a longtime partner of FSD.
We hope you’ll enjoy reading about all our remarkable graduates, and be sure to mark your calendar for our next graduation on Dec. 6, 2018, which is free and open to the public.
Meet the Summer 2018 Graduates
Dorothy served in the U.S. Army for 32 years, with 27 of those active duty. Diagnosed with PTSD and traumatic brain injury, Dorothy has been matched with the calm and dependable service dog Dahlia, who has been trained to accompany Dorothy in public places to help relieve her anxiety, and to nudge and lick her during flashbacks and nightmares. Says Dorothy, “Dahlia is a gentle, familiar soul. I feel like I have known her for a long time.” Dahlia came to FSD from the Prison Trained K-9 Companion Program.
Five-year-old Isaiah is a smart and curious boy who is looking forward to life with Baja, his new service dog. Isaiah has autism, and Baja has been trained to help calm his anxiety, give him confidence in social situations, and most importantly, according to Isaiah, “be my friend and play with me outside.” Baja came to FSD from the Dumb Friends League Buddy Center.
Life on the Eastern Plains has made 6-year-old Garrett—who has been diagnosed with autism and sensory processing disorder—quite an authority on tractors! With his new service dog, Steele, at his side, Garrett is hoping to feel more comfortable in public and attend his sister’s gymnastics meets, as well as county fairs and community events. Steele came to FSD from the Dumb Friends League Buddy Center.
Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than 50 years ago, Lin walks with a cane but has difficulties with balance, standing up from a sitting position, and opening heavy doors. In addition to providing companionship, sturdy service dog Aslan has been trained in brace and balance and will retrieve Lin’s keys, phone, and dropped items, open and close doors, empty the clothes washer and dryer, and help stabilize her gait to reduce the risk of falls. Aslan was donated to FSD by Susan Koll. This team is sponsored by the Leslie and Gary Howard Foundation.
Armed with a master’s degree in social work and a certificate in animal-assisted social work, both from the University of Denver, Michelle works at a rehab facility serving adolescents and young adults with dual diagnoses of substance abuse and mental health conditions. Trained at FSD as a professional therapy dog, friendly, mellow Wonton will be partnering with Michelle and therapists at the facility to provide emotional support to clients undergoing treatment. Wonton came to FSD from the Prison Trained K-9 Companion Program.
Jonathan, a young man with Becker muscular dystrophy, is delighted to be going home with his smart-as-a-whip service dog, Solar. Jon uses a power wheelchair and is unable to walk or bend over to pick up things off the floor, but Solar will be at his side to retrieve his phone and other items, open and close doors, and pull the cord on emergency buttons in their apartment. Says Jon, “This dog will be my best friend and constant companion, as well as my lifeline.” Solar came to FSD from the Prison Trained K-9 Companion Program. This team is sponsored by the Petco Foundation.
In 2002, a terrible car crash dramatically changed Chuck’s life. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that forced him to relearn how to talk and walk, and has been diagnosed with PTSD and depression. Chuck’s mobility is limited due to balance issues caused by his brain injury, but skilled companion dog Bowser is ready and able to assist his new human partner with brace and balance, retrieving dropped objects, and providing Chuck with companionship and a sense of purpose. Bowser was donated to FSD by Sharon Koll. This team is sponsored by Halliburton.
McGee has started his service dog career in Juneau, Alaska, helping Kim with mobility issues related to diabetic neuropathy and arthritis. A naturally active woman, Kim is becoming more independent with McGee’s help pushing elevator buttons, tugging her socks off, finding a person when she needs help, picking up dropped items, retrieving soda from the refrigerator when her blood sugar is low, and closing the door when they leave the house. McGee came to FSD from Luvin’ Labs. This team is sponsored by PetSmart Charities.