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'Healing each other': Island charity pairs veterans with rescue dogs to train into service dogs


A non-profit in central Vancouver Island is teaching rescue dogs, and people, a few new tricks.

Angel Blaszczyk moved from Edmonton to Vancouver Island in October to take part in a program that pairs rescue dogs with humans in need.

"Honestly, I don't know where I'd be without this dog right now," she told CTV News on Thursday.

"Life kind of went for a whirlwind and he really helps me feel grounded," said Blaszczyk.

She'll be going to Fanny Bay three days a week for 48 weeks to train the perfect dog with "Operation Freedom Paws."

The non-profit operates on a five-acre facility where veterans, first responders and civilians train rescue dogs to be their service dogs.

"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," said Barb Ashmead, founder and executive director of Freedom Paws.

The cost of the animal, the food, and even many of the vet bills are covered by the charity.

"It’s wonderful watching these dogs blossom," said Ashmead. "All these dogs really wanted was a person to love, and they love that person."

Six of the dogs currently in the program are rescues out of Afghanistan who were tortured and shot at by the Taliban.

Andy the dog had his ears cut off and is now getting as much love from his owner Brianna Degirolamo as she is from him.

"We are definitely healing each other," she said.

"He needed a person," she explained. "A typical dog, you could throw a ball for. The moment I went to go throw a ball he had a panic attack and bolted because he thought I was throwing something at him."

Operation Freedom Paws relies on donations and is once again benefitting from a fundraising calendar with images from a generous photographer.

"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," said photographer Paulina Saarinen.

"You have to get a good moment in movement or expression, ears perked up. There cannot be any stress," she said. Top Stories

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