The Villages - October 2021 - 47
for a Purpose
Villager Brings Nonprofit Program to The Villages
STORY BY RICA KEENUM
They give puppies to people, but their mission is more
than matchmaking. Freedom Service Dogs of America
(FSD) trains volunteers to help raise service dogs that
enrich human lives through everyday support, love and
companionship. These special canines help people cope with
disabilities and live with more confidence, joy and ease.
" (The dogs) eventually learn how to do things like
pick up a credit card off the ground, or press the handicap
button at a store, " said FSD volunteer representative Cathy
She notes that seeing-eye dogs have especially
challenging jobs, as they must understand when to listen
and when to disobey a command.
" They have to know when it's safe to cross the street,
even if they're told to move forward, " she said.
Kennedy has raised nine puppies and co-raised others to
be service dogs. Her volunteer work began in 1997, but her
passion for dogs started decades before then.
" When I was a kid, I'd bring strays home before my
grandma could find them, " she said. " She'd shoo them
away but they'd always come back. "
More than 90 veterans, children and active-duty
military clients are in line to receive a trained dog from
FSD - individuals with autism, traumatic brain injuries,
cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, post-traumatic stress
disorder and other disabilities. Puppies in training spend
their first two months in correctional facilities, through a
program with prison inmates.
" It's such a win-win situation, " Kennedy said. " So many
lives are changed, from the prisoners to the person who gets
the service dog - and their friends and families aren't as
worried about them because they know they have support
when they're at home or when they go out. "
After inmates teach dogs basic obedience, puppy raisers
take them through the next phase.
" (The volunteers) take what they've learned and transfer
those skills into the home setting - because the dogs haven't
ridden in cars or been around buses or boats or crowds, "
Kennedy said. " They've been in a structured facility. "
FSD offers support throughout, and provides veterinary
care and supplies for the pups. Although the cost of care
and training is between $30,000 and $60,000, recipients
don't pay for their dogs. Kennedy notes that donations and
fundraising fund the program.
Once puppies are around 12 to 14 months old, they
return to FSD for advanced, intensive training. " Giving
them up is the hardest part and it doesn't get easier, but it's
team work through and through, " Kennedy said. " From
nose to tail, we make sure the dogs are healthy and capable
of providing the help the clients need. "
But not all dogs have the instinct, drive or discipline to do
" Some dogs would rather spend their lives chasing
squirrels and balls - and that's okay, " she said. " We want
the dogs to be happy too. "
Kennedy recalls a puppy named Hachey that was too
energetic to be a service companion. He ultimately became
a search and rescue dog.
" We don't say they pass or fail, " she said. They make
other career choices.
Who knows where their path will lead? As a new and
unintentional Villager, Kennedy can attest.
" We had no plans to move here, but somehow we went
home with a house, " she says, laughing. " That seems to be
the way it goes. "
She's excited about sharing the FSD program with fellow
" It's the perfect place to start a group to raise puppies, "
she said. " There's so much going on, different ranges of
people - the squares and the outdoor activities. It's just
phenomenal what you can do here, socializing and raising
In the end, the dogs that successfully graduate become
heroes to the humans they serve.
" One vet was close to suicide, " Kennedy said. " Now he
has a reason to get up in the morning. "
The Villages - October 2021
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Villages - October 2021
The Villages - October 2021 - Cover1
The Villages - October 2021 - Contents
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