Island Charity Empowers Veterans and Rescue Dogs by Training Them as Service Dogs Together: A Story of Healing

Rescue dogs and veterans team up for service dog training at a non-profit in central Vancouver Island.

Rescue dogs find new homes with veterans in need through Vancouver Island program: Angel Blaszczyk’s story.

Blaszczyk, who is a participant of a program that matches rescue dogs with humans in need, stated that she doesn’t know where she would be without her dog. 

“Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without this dog right now,” she said in an interview with CTV News on Thursday. 

The dog has been a great support system for her, especially when her life got overwhelming. “Life kind of went for a whirlwind and he really helps me feel grounded,” she added.

Angel Blaszczyk has committed to 48 weeks of training at “Operation Freedom Paws” in Fanny Bay three days a week to train a rescue dog.

At the heart of the organization is a five-acre property where civilians, first responders, and veterans work with rescue dogs to train them to become service dogs.

According to Barb Ashmead, the founder and executive director of Freedom Paws, the program is non-traditional, but has been successful in creating strong bonds between the dogs and their human counterparts. 

“It’s a non-traditional program but we find it works really well, and by the time they finish our training program they’re very well bonded with their dog,” she said.

Ashmead explained that the charity covers the cost of the rescue dog, food, and most vet bills. She added that it is fulfilling to see the dogs thrive with their new owners: “It’s wonderful watching these dogs blossom. All these dogs really wanted was a person to love, and they loved that person.”

Among the dogs in the program, six were rescued from Afghanistan, where they were tortured and shot at by the Taliban. Andy, one of these dogs, had his ears cut off, but he is now receiving love and affection from his owner, Brianna Degirolamo, just as she is from him.

According to Brianna Degirolamo, the owner of Andy, “We are definitely healing each other.” She went on to explain that Andy needed a person who could understand his traumatic past. As a result of the abuse he suffered in Afghanistan, he would have panic attacks and run away at the sight of a ball. Degirolamo added that a typical dog would enjoy playing fetch, but Andy needed a different kind of care that she could provide.

Operation Freedom Paws, a non-profit organization, depends on the generosity of donors to continue its mission. One of the ways they raise funds is through a yearly fundraising calendar, which features stunning images captured by a generous photographer.

Photographer Paulina Saarinen said, “The dogs are not easy to photograph because you can not tell them to smile when people smile – but you have to capture the moment,” regarding the fundraising calendar for Operation Freedom Paws, which relies on donations.

According to Saarinen, capturing good photographs of the dogs is challenging because they cannot be instructed to smile like humans. The photographer emphasized the importance of capturing the perfect moment in terms of movement or expression, such as perked-up ears, without any visible signs of stress.

Read More: Vancouver Island

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