Animals, owners receive diplomas

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Tom Munds
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There were a lot of smiles, quite a few tears and even some excited barks during the June 22 Freedom Service Dogs graduation ceremonies at Hampden Hall in Englewood.

“This is a big day for Lori, Lola and I,” said Bill Schmitz, referring to his wife, Lori, and her service dog before the ceremony. “Lola, our service dog, will be a huge help to us. Lori has multiple sclerosis, and Lola is always right there to pick up anything she drops. Also, the dog has her own portable phone that, when it rings, Lola picks it up and takes it to Lori. She is very much a part of our family.”

He smiled and added that Lola even has her own shelf in the refrigerator.

“The shelf is stocked with bottles of water,” the Arvada resident said. “When Lori wants a bottle of water, she tells Lola. The dog opens the refrigerator door and gently takes out a bottle of water, and brings it to Lori.”

Bill said the family has been Freedom Service Dogs supporters. He said they donated to a campaign to pay surgery that a service dog needed on her front joints.

That dog turned out to be Lola. The family also has provided weekend fostering for dogs in training, and Bill has picked up rescued dogs from shelters and brought them to the Englewood Freedom Service Dogs facility.

The graduation ceremonies for the Schmitz family and Lola was also a special occasion for Michael and Sheri Folsom, owners of Englewood-based Cowboy Moving and Storage.

“I have always had dogs,” Michael said. “We met the people from Freedom Service Dogs a few years ago when they moved into Englewood. We donated some moving services to help them and learned about what they do. We’ve been supporters ever since. We have included FSD and their dogs in many of our commercials.”

It takes about eight months and costs about $25,000 to train a Freedom Service Dog. Michael said he and Sheri wanted to help the organization with its mission and decided to cover the entire cost of training a dog this year.

“The dog we sponsored was Lola. It was a perfect fit when she was teamed up with Lori,” the Sedalia resident said. “It is so great to see Lola and Lori together, and all the joy and help the dog brings. Words can’t do justice to the feelings we have when we see Lori and Lola together.”

Sheri said they like the fact that FSD rescues dogs from shelters so they won’t be put down and instead will be trained to help others. She said she’d like to challenge other companies to sponsor the training of a Freedom Service Dog.

“Of course, all rescued dogs aren’t able to complete the FSD training,” she said. “But, when a dog isn’t able to complete training because of things like a love of chasing butterflies or squirrels, Freedom Service Dogs makes sure to find a good home for the animal. As a matter of fact, one of our dogs is Farley, a dog that wasn’t able to complete the FSD training.”

Wisconsin resident Kevin Foster and his dog, Brinley, also received Freedom Service Dogs diplomas during the ceremonies

“This is a big day for my Brinley and me,” Foster, a Vietnam veteran, said before the ceremony. “I read a book called ‘Until Tuesday’ that talked about how much a service dog could help people like me who suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I signed up with FSD, was on the waiting list and now, almost a year later, Brinley and I are graduating.”

“Being with Brinley is calming, and the dog has already kept me from sliding backwards in my mind to those really bad times,” he said.

Chuck Flynn, another veteran, had similar comments about what having a Freedom Service Dog named Mader has meant to him.

“I was getting treatment for PTSD at the Veterans Administration hospital, and a doctor suggested a service dog might help me,” the southeast Denver resident said. “My big problems are intense flashbacks and nightmares. Since Mader came into my life, she comforts me, helps me keep calm, and the flashbacks and nightmares happen lest frequently. When they do, they are less intense. Mader is truly a blessing to me, and I appreciate all the hard work that went into training her.”

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