Operation Freedom Paws

Four Paws, Two Feet, One Team

aka OFP   |   Gilroy, CA   |  www.operationfreedompaws.org

Mission

Operation Freedom Paws empowers veterans, first responders, children and other individuals with disabilities to restore their freedom to live life.

Ruling year info

2011

Founder and Executive Director

Mary Cortani

Main address

777 First Street PMB 515

Gilroy, CA 95020 USA

Show more contact info

Formerly known as

Operation Freedoms Paws

EIN

45-2566382

NTEE code info

Services to Promote the Independence of Specific Populations (P80)

Human Services - Multipurpose and Other N.E.C. (P99)

Animal Training, Behavior (D61)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Communication

Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Disabled veterans and others who have had traumatic experiences live under constant stress. Hypervigilance and the inability to trust their own perceptions make it impossible for them to leave familiar surroundings unaccompanied. Their worlds, and those of their loved ones, gradually become smaller. Recognizing they have become a burden on friends and family and lost their independence and self-respect drives them into severe depression---a path that can end in suicide. The publicized 22 veterans a day who take their own lives does not include numbers from all U.S. states, female or homeless veterans. Caregivers, in addition to ensuring loved ones get the medical care they need, are on 24/7 suicide watch. In many cases, they are also a family’s only functional parent and breadwinner; this puts them at risk for secondary PTSD. Doctors prescribe OFP’s service dog training program when traditional treatments have failed their patients. We give them hope for a future---a “new normal”.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Service Dog Training for Veterans and First Responders

Operation Freedom Paws provides a comprehensive 48-week service dog program to teach veterans and first responders with disabilities to use dogs to help manage their medical conditions. The dogs are evaluated and chosen from shelters. Newly accepted clients are matched with dogs that meet their individual medical, physical and psychological needs. Starting with general obedience, clients and dogs learn together at their own pace. Soon after being matched, the dogs begin to recognize and alert their handlers to changes in body chemistry that relate to their medical issues. OFP provides dogs, training, veterinary care, dog food, equipment and group activities to clients and their families at no charge. OFP’s average cost per team is $20,000. A licensed therapist is present at each class, because clients are not just training a dog---they are working hard to change themselves. After graduating from the program, clients and their families are welcome to continue attending OFP’s classes and activities.

Population(s) Served
Veterans
Families
Emergency responders
People with disabilities

Although military veterans and first responders are our primary target demographic, when funding permits we accept non-veteran adults and some teenagers into the same program. They make up between 20% and 25% or our clientele.

Population(s) Served
People with disabilities
Adults
Adolescents
Families

Clients who complete the program with a service dog and who show aptitude for training others are offered the opportunity to participate in OFP's Mentor Trainer Program. For the clients involved, this program increases confidence, leadership and communication skills. Eventually we hope to expand Operation Freedom Paws into new locations.

Population(s) Served
Veterans
People with disabilities

Where we work

Awards

Top Ten CNN Hero 2012

CNN

2011 Hero (Animal Category) 2011

Napa County Red Cross

Corporate Philanthropy Award 2016

Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal

Women of Influence Award 2018

Silicon Valley / San Jose Business Journal

Central Coast Clara Barton Award 2016

Red Cross

KSBW Central Coast 2015

Jefferson Award for Public Service

Coretta Scott King Award (Santa Clara Valley) 2014

Martin Luther King, Jr

Nonprofit of the Year 2021

Gilroy Chamber of Commerce

Affiliations & memberships

Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans 2019

Our results

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

How does this organization measure their results? It's a hard question but an important one.

Number of applicants applying for service dogs

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

People with disabilities, Emergency responders, Veterans

Related Program

Service Dog Training for Veterans and First Responders

Type of Metric

Context - describing the issue we work on

Direction of Success

Decreasing

Context Notes

COVID and better understanding by medical personnel & the public of the difference between a highly-trained service dog and an emotional support animal accounts for the drop in applications.

Clients Reporting Suicidal Thoughts Before and After Training Program

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

People with disabilities

Related Program

Service Dog Training for Other Disabled Persons

Type of Metric

Outcome - describing the effects on people or issues

Direction of Success

Decreasing

Context Notes

We administer the same survey when new clients are accepted and when they complete the program after approximately a year. To date, 60 clients have completed both surveys. SEE CHART IN PHOTOS

Clients Reporting Communication Level Before and After Training Program

This metric is no longer tracked.
Totals By Year
Population(s) Served

People with disabilities

Related Program

Service Dog Training for Other Disabled Persons

Type of Metric

Outcome - describing the effects on people or issues

Direction of Success

Increasing

Context Notes

60 clients have rated their level of communication on a scale of 1-5 when they began the program, and again at graduation. SEE EXPANDED CHART IN PHOTOS

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

The overarching goal of OFP’s program is to first save lives, then improve the quality of those lives so clients are truly living, not just existing. This doesn’t happen overnight. The dog is merely a tool to assist clients through the transition. Our program lasts at least 48 weeks and requires a significant commitment to change from each client.

By matching compatible dogs rescued from shelters, we give clients hope. By showing clients we have experience with their medical issues, we begin to earn their trust. Group training sessions are twice a week, so clients must leave their homes and be around other people. Clients learn to communicate with their dogs; communications improve with family members and medical professionals. We teach clients to pay attention to their dogs, giving them focal points during medical episodes. By constantly repeating commands during training, we create habits so clients with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and PTSD gain confidence, despite short-term memory issues. A licensed therapist is present at every training session for clients or caregivers who need immediate assistance from a mental health professional because they are in crisis, or just having a lousy day. Between the dog, staff and therapists, clients begin to feel like valued parts of a greater whole. Knowing the mentor-trainers instructing them come from OFP’s program and have marched in the same boots means they don’t need to feel weak or embarrassed if they are triggered….everyone really understands what they’re going through. The realization that they are not alone in these experiences goes a long way toward helping clients heal. All are patients of psychiatrists or psychologists who address past experiences, so we ask them to only look forward when they are at OFP. We ask them to think about specific goals, which often center around reconnecting with children. Some of these are adult children, estranged after decades of miscommunication. We encourage family involvement in the program by extending invitations to attend classes and participate in activities.

We are aiming to accomplish miracles with people who had written off their lives, but decided to try one last thing. In the beginning, the only thing keeping them alive may be that dog that now depends on them. It may be the first thing in a long time that has made them smile. Over time, we will give them tools to cope with their challenges and make them want to live for themselves.

Clients are referred to OFP by physicians or psychiatrists who believe their patients can benefit from a service dog. Upon receiving the doctor's letter and potential client's application, we interview the person about lifestyle, interests, past and current activities, and what s/he wants to do that seems out of reach because of the disability. Choosing the right dog to meet each of those needs is critical to the client's success. During this interview we emphasize the level of commitment required, explain the program in detail, and review/sign our contract of understanding.

The initial meeting between a client and the dog OFP selects is their “first date", and the new client's first trust exercise. Although there may be additional meetings before a final decision is made, sometimes changes we see in clients are dramatic and immediate: they meet the dog, and both entities actually transform before our eyes...as if their souls had been waiting to find each other. If dog and client are clearly a "match", training begins immediately with basic leash handling.

During the approximately 48 weeks that follow, handler and dog will work together at their own pace. They will gradually build a repertoire of commands and behaviors designed to increase the client's independence and confidence, and improve his/her everyday life. Each person, dog and disability is unique, so besides the common elements everyone learns, commands are taught (and often invented) to address issues specific to each team. Teams are expected to complete 375 hours of group training and 600 hours of "homework". While clients are learning to train their dogs, we encourage them to interact with fellow students, and they connect over shared experiences with their animals.

The "mentor-trainers" who help teach classes are disabled veterans and graduates of OFP's service dog program. All showed aptitude for working with both people and dogs while they were in training, and were eager to give back to the program by helping new clients overcome their own hurdles. We watch for students who may have the skill and desire to take on this role.

We always have several rescued dogs on site to be matched with new clients; when dogs are first matched, they live at the OFP kennel until we are sure the client is committed to the program. Clients who need surgery are able to leave their dogs with us as well. At least 2 staff members are scheduled at all times to care for our dogs. To help offset employee payroll and costs, we offer boarding and daycare to the public, as well as obedience classes. These services have been well-received by our neighboring communities.

OFP Founder Mary Cortani is a veteran Army canine instructor with over 40 years of experiences as a dog-trainer and (much more challenging) handler-trainer. She truthfully says, "The dogs are the easy part!" OFP chooses "mentor-trainers", graduates of the program, to help teach group classes and work 1:1 with students. Most are military veterans, intimately familiar with the daily challenges and struggles faced by most of our clients.

Publicity from Mary's 2012 Top Ten CNN Hero designation catapulted OFP, then a fledgling nonprofit, into the global limelight. Since then she has been honored with several national and local awards. OFP's staff and Board members have extensive business experience, which serves us well in the competitive nonprofit arena. We enlist the support of volunteers to help with our fundraising events, and we make use of social media to keep our organization foremost in the minds of supporters. We publish a quarterly electronic newsletter, and routinely give presentations to raise awareness about our mission and program. We actively pursue relationships with like-minded private foundations.

OFP formally collaborates with three California nonprofits: DreamPower Horsemanship (DPH), Guide Dogs of the Desert, and Camp Tuolumne Trails. DPH has provided equine therapy for Bay Area children, adults and veterans for over a decade. Their staff includes licensed therapists and family counselors. Since 2013, OFP has since contracted with DPH to provide a staff member at each training session. Having a professional therapist available adds a level of confidence for OFP's instructors for those days when a client is obviously struggling. Veterans regard these therapists, unlike their VA counselors, as someone they can talk to informally, off the record, and without having to wait months for an appointment. From Guide Dogs of the Desert (GDD), OFP has been the fortunate recipient of several "career change dogs". These dogs, bred and trained to serve, (but deemed too exuberant for guide tasks,) would otherwise have become highly-trained pets. Instead, they are proving to be a perfect fit for OFP's program. Family participation is an important element of our program. Camp Tuolumne Trails (CTT) has partnered with OFP since 2011 to provide clients and their families off-season access to its facility near Yosemite. Designed for full handicapped access, CTT's unplugged activities, beautiful grounds and relaxed atmosphere are ideal for encouraging communications between people and their dogs.

2020 marks Mary’s 10th year of teaching veterans and others with disabilities to train dogs for their own medical needs. We now track more data points to identify patterns that could help us improve the program. To date, we have accepted over clients and their families. Many lives have been changed through hard work and partnership with OFP-trained service dogs. We have significantly reduced the time that elapses between a veteran submitting a completed application package and being interviewed. We continue to receive applications every week; our waiting list has over 100 non-veteran applicants. However, not everyone who applies is a good fit for the program. We have refined our pre-screening process so new applicants understand and can think about the dedication, time and energy they would need to commit if accepted.

We experience the inevitable passing of dogs that were matched with early clients. We are prepared to support them through their grief, match them with a new dog and help them begin to re-focus on the future. Some will not need another dog because they have developed skills to cope with their issues without a 24/7 service dog. Others will always need a dog at their sides for specific medical needs. We stay connected to program graduates, encouraging them to return for events and periodic training. Because we have established relationships with family members, if a client is struggling for any reason, we hear about it and reach out.

In 2014 we leased the perfect property for our needs. Thousands of volunteer hours have made the OFP Canine Education Center a “safe space” for clients and dogs. We are in the process of negotiating a purchase price for the property and making plans to secure funds to buy it. Besides OFP’s training center, the facility is a temporary home for the six to twelve rescued dogs we usually have on hand waiting to be matched with new clients. Personnel must be onsite 24/7 both for dogs and clients, so we offer for-fee pet boarding and daycare to the public to cover part of the staffing costs. As with OFP’s public obedience training, 100% of the income from customers goes toward our service dog program. Customers appreciate that their fees are supporting service dog teams and share our mission with others. Kennel income helps level out fluctuations in donor support due to changes in the economy.

The need for service dogs nationwide continues to grow, along with publicized incidents of dogs, handlers or businesses that have violated ADA service dog guidelines. OFP’s high standard of behavior for our teams is recognized wherever they live or travel, so we are frequently approached by individuals and groups who want to partner with us. We will remain true to our mission while educating people and businesses about how trained service dogs can assist disabled people, and emphasizing the importance of proper training for dogs and handlers.

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We demonstrated a willingness to learn more by reviewing resources about feedback practice.
done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • Who are the people you serve with your mission?

    Disabled clients and their families

  • How is your organization collecting feedback from the people you serve?

    Paper surveys,

  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To identify and remedy poor client service experiences, To identify bright spots and enhance positive service experiences, To make fundamental changes to our programs and/or operations, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve, To understand people's needs and how we can help them achieve their goals,

  • What significant change resulted from feedback?

    In 2021, engaged in a business relationship to further help clients heal from their traumatic experiences.

  • With whom is the organization sharing feedback?

    Our staff, Our board, Our funders, Our community partners,

  • How has asking for feedback from the people you serve changed your relationship?

    We know our program is helping the people who stick with it, and their improvements are long-term.

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

    We don’t use any of these practices,

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    We don't have any major challenges to collecting feedback,

Financials

Operation Freedom Paws
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Operations

The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

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Connect with nonprofit leaders

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Build relationships with key people who manage and lead nonprofit organizations with GuideStar Pro. Try a low commitment monthly plan today.

  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

Want to see how you can enhance your nonprofit research and unlock more insights? Learn More about GuideStar Pro.

Operation Freedom Paws

Board of directors
as of 11/6/2021
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Mary Cortani

Operation Freedom Paws

Term: 2011 -

Mary Cortani

No Affiliation

Diane Jimenez

No Affiliation

Nicole Martinez

No Affiliation

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? Yes

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 07/24/2021

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? GuideStar partnered on this section with CHANGE Philanthropy and Equity in the Center.

Leadership

No data

Race & ethnicity

No data

Gender identity

No data

 

No data

Sexual orientation

No data

Disability

No data

Equity strategies

Last updated: 10/23/2020

GuideStar partnered with Equity in the Center - an organization that works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial equity - to create this section. Learn more

Data
  • We have long-term strategic plans and measurable goals for creating a culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.
Policies and processes
  • We engage everyone, from the board to staff levels of the organization, in race equity work and ensure that individuals understand their roles in creating culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.