Animals, owners receive diplomas

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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 added the family has been Freedom Service Dogs supporters. He said there was an appeal for donations to cover the bills so a dog could have needed surgery on her front joints. The family donated to the project and the dog that received surgery turned out to be Lola. The family has provided a weekend foster home 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 and we have too because we love them,” 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, learned about what they do and have 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. The couple said they admired the work of Freedom Service Dogs, wanted to help them with their mission and, this year, they decided to cover the entire cost of training a dog.

“The dog we sponsored was Lola and 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 work Freedom Service Dogs does and they also like the fact that FSD rescues dogs from shelters so they won’t be put down but can be trained to help others. She added 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 dog Brinley and I,” 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 PTSD. I signed up with FSD, was on the waiting list and now, almost a year later, Brinley and I are graduating.”

Foster said he has already spent a lot of time with Brinley.

“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. “We graduate, then head to the bus station for the 25-hour ride back to Wisconsin.”

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 and 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 so she can help me.”