In 2011, the first year that the Davignon Charitable Fund was financially able to award grants, we decided to use our funds for one specific and worthwhile purpose. Our goal was to rescue and train a service dog for a wounded warrior through Operation Freedom.
Operation Freedom was developed to help returning war veterans and military personnel transition from active duty and combat to civilian life. Service members and veterans are placed with highly specialized service dogs that help them find a new level of independence in their post-combat life.
The team of Joel and Barrett was sponsored by the Fund and highlights of Joel Hunt’s personal story follow (read the full story):
In 2005, during my third Iraq combat deployment, I was injured by a roadside blast that left me with a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). I was the “lucky” one – I will never forget my buddies who didn’t make it home.
When I returned, I was confined to a wheelchair. My parents moved in with me as caregivers. I endured dizziness, blackouts, double vision and could not feel my legs. I was severely depressed and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I was on 15 different medications. The side effects made me slur my speech and disrupted my ability to think and concentrate. People thought I was drunk.
Freedom Service Dogs (FSD) was the first organization that enabled me to get out of the house, back when I was still in my wheelchair, at an event to work on training dogs. I did this for two months while I was in a program at the VA.
In December 2011, I put in a request for a service dog. There was a point in time that my path could have led to a life in a wheelchair, in a nursing home, but my parents gave me a second chance at an active life, with my loving family. I chose Freedom Service Dogs because this organization gives rescued dogs a second chance. It’s my turn to give a creature in need a purpose in life and a loving home. At the beginning of , I fractured my T9. It happened at a very difficult time. My PTSD had resurfaced, my wife and I lost our second child to a miscarriage and my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Freedom Service Dogs called me soon after and said that my dog, Barrett, was ready, thanks to very generous funding from the Davignon Charitable Fund. Barrett and I bonded, but after a few weeks, my depression had turned to despair and I had the meds in my hand – my PTSD had finally broken the camel’s back. I sat on the bed, getting ready to end my life, and at that dark moment, Barrett came over to me and out a paw on my leg and looked up at me, his eyes saying “It’s okay, bro, I have been there myself.” That night, Barrett saved my life. PTSD can feel like drinking nine energy drinks and if you have no outlet, life can be unbearable. Freedom Service Dogs is not just about dogs helping with physical disabilities, it’s about true, ongoing, freedom.