The case for Freedom Fidos

October 17, 2017


Founder Matt Burgess and his service dog Brinks sharing a hug! (Freedom Fidos)

America’s greatest heroes are those who have served our country. The United States would not be here today if not for the soldiers who fight and die for it, soldiers who risk their lives so Americans can enjoy their rights as human beings. Unfortunately, there is an enemy that veterans still fight today, even after coming back from war. This enemy, known as PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, causes people to suffer from serious anxiety after encountering traumatic situations. PTSD is so serious that 7 to 8 percent of Americans “will experience PTSD at some point in their lives,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Furthermore, 15% of Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD, and about “11-20 out of every 100 veterans (or between 11-20%) who served in OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom] or OEF [Operation Enduring Freedom] have PTSD in a given year,” according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.

Thankfully, man’s best friend, service dogs, are being used to help veterans with PTSD. First, they help the veterans overcome their “emotional numbness” by causing the veterans to interact with them. Moreover, dogs tend to draw people in, so the veterans need to interact with more people. The veterans also need to give the dogs different commands, which helps the veterans communicate, and the love from the dogs lowers veterans’ anxiety.

Oakley, a service dog trained by Freedom Fidos, enjoying a car ride! (Kristine Duncan)

Service dogs also help disabled veterans by performing tasks that are hard for veterans due to medical issues. They can perform tasks such as retrieving and carrying objects, as well as retrieve phones from the other room and bring it to their owner when they are having medical emergencies.

Freedom Fidos, a non-profit organization with 4 acres of land in Columbus, Georgia, that helps with both by training service dogs. Created by Matt Burgess, a veteran with 18 medical conditions due to military-related brain injuries, the organization helps other veterans deal with the same issues he deals with on a daily basis. Burgess has also received help from his own dog, Brinks.

Freedom Fidos is unlike other organizations because it gives service dogs to veterans for free, no strings attached, whereas people can pay up to $13,000 in order to train service dogs.

According to the Freedom Fidos Website, “Matt’s organization has placed 36 dogs since its inception and has a waiting list of over 200 individuals.” One-hundred more dogs have been trained by Freedom Fidos since then. Freedom Fidos has a high success rate, with only two of the 36 dogs being sent back to the organization. Furthermore, 99 percent of the dogs at Freedom Fidos are shelter dogs, and Mr. Burgess finds them by looking at pictures of them online. According to Mr. Burgess, “We [Freedom Fidos] also try to build a good relationship with each shelter so they can inform us if they think they have a dog which might be a good candidate for a service dog.” Burgess also has a specific method for how he chooses each dog, such as the tennis ball method, a method where he bounces a tennis ball for 20 minutes and sees if each dog stays attentive to the ball for all 20 minutes. These dogs who can are selected to be services dogs because Burgess often uses tennis balls as a way to train the dogs. Burgess also sees how temperamental each dog is. Mr. Burgess said, “We are looking for a dog with a great balance. One of the biggest things which helps us select a dog is we bring in, Brinks [Burgess’s own service dog]. Brinks can sense something which might be a little off in a dog.” Each dog also has to fit the owner’s specific needs for his or her disability. Some of these factors include: the dog’s personality, the location of the person’s home and the dog’s size.

Brinks, Matt Burgess’s adorable service dog, holding Matt’s keys. (Jenny Millkey)

When asked if the volunteers for the Freedom Fidos also need to have a certain personality, similar to how service dogs need to have the ability to stay focused, he responded, “They [the volunteers] are passionate about helping people and animals. They enjoy how it feels to help others. They enjoy the connection which being around dogs gives them.” Moreover, Weber students have the opportunity to volunteer by helping to take care of the dogs at the facility by “cleaning kennels, picking up dog waste, filling water buckets, learning how to train dogs, running, exercising, and playing with the dogs. The pups have to get 4 miles a day of exercise.” If they cannot drive all the way to Columbus, students can volunteer in other ways. For example, they can ask their “teachers to have us [Freedom Fidos] come speak at their schools and do demonstrations with the dogs.” They can also help to format materials for Freedom Fidos, as well as help look for events that Freedom Fidos can attend. One such event is a meet-and-greet with two of the service dogs, Brinks and Oakley, which will take place on October 29th in Hammond Park. For more information click here. The sooner people join Freedom Fidos, the better, and Burgess even says that “ten years old would be a great age to start volunteering with their parents’ consent.”



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