Toys & Training

Mary Cortani honored as Lady of the Yr – Gilroy Dispatch


Mary Cortani began Operation Freedom Paws in 2010 with financing from family and friends, and a “ardour” to coach service canine and assist her fellow army veterans who’re battling health-related challenges of their every day civilian lives.

Since then, the San Martin-based nonprofit has paired 487 purchasers with service canine—coaching them collectively by way of an intensive program and providing a “holistic” strategy to remedy on the group’s property on Llagas Avenue, in accordance with Cortani. Operation Freedom Paws’ motto is “4 paws, two ft, one crew.”

On June 24, Cortani, the founder and Government Director of OFP, was honored because the District 17 2022 Lady of the Yr for State Sen. John Laird’s district. The annual award goals “to honor the ladies of this state who’re doing superb work that’s not at all times acknowledged on the state stage,” mentioned Justin Tran, Laird’s district consultant.

For Cortani, it’s all concerning the purchasers, who she considers household.

“We promised you from day one which we might at all times be right here, that we might at all times have your again and we’d provide you with no matter we may to assist—and if we didn’t have the reply we might try to discover the reply,” Cortani instructed a roomful of purchasers and their canine who attended the June 24 ceremony. “Being a part of your loved ones and your life for 13 years now, it means one thing to me and it means one thing to this group that you just got here again and also you’re nonetheless a part of this.”

A kind of in attendance was Mariela Meylan together with her household and her service canine, Teddy. Meylan—an Military veteran who was injured in fight in 2004—is the second shopper ever served by OFP, and Teddy is the second canine she acquired and skilled with by way of this system since she related with OFP in 2010.

Not all of OFP’s purchasers are army veterans. Some are first responders and youngsters. Most of them undergo from Put up Traumatic Stress, Complicated-Put up Traumatic Stress (CPTS) “and/or Traumatic Mind Harm (TBI) signs, or different bodily, neurological, psychological or mobility wants,” in accordance with OFP’s web site.

Purchasers are paired with their very own service canine, and the pairs stick collectively as they prepare side-by-side for the shopper’s particular wants.

A few of these purchasers say with out a trace of exaggeration that Cortani, her crew and OFP saved their lives. Charles Fryman, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam, started taking his canine, Belle, to OFP in 2016 for civilian coaching.

Sooner or later, Belle started furiously licking Fryman’s arms and neck, he mentioned on the June 24 ceremony. He instructed Cortani about Belle’s habits, and she or he prompt Fryman go to a health care provider for some exams.

Fryman discovered that he was diabetic, and Belle would lick his arms when his blood sugar was dangerously excessive or low. After that, OFP set Fryman and Belle on a coaching program wherein the canine’s job was to acknowledge Fryman’s signs and alert him accordingly.  

Since then—and after a pair emergency incidents—Fryman and Belle collectively have stabilized his diabetes, he mentioned.

Most purchasers are paired with canine supplied by OFP, although the employees and trainers will take into account working with a shopper’s current pet in the event that they’re capable of get by way of the coaching, Cortani defined. The overwhelming majority of OFP canine are rescued.

Ramon Reyes, an 18-year Military veteran, had been on the waitlist for OFP for a couple of 12 months after they known as him in 2017. A spot had opened, and OFP provided to pair him along with his new service canine, Huey, Reyes mentioned June 24.

Huey has been a “life changer” for Reyes and his household, he mentioned.

“I actually don’t suppose I might be right here with out Mary’s assist, with out Huey,” Reyes mentioned, with Huey by his facet. “That’s the best way my life was going. If Mary may get Lady of the Yr yearly that will be nice… She’s Lady of the Yr perpetually in my life. I really like you, Mary.”

Cortani’s mixed ardour for serving to veterans and coaching service canine comes from her expertise as a canine coach within the Military, the place she served for 9 years energetic and 16 years reserve.

OFP’s providers transcend offering purchasers with service canine and associated coaching. The group provides group and particular person remedy classes; quiet, roomy areas on the grounds—indoor and open air—for purchasers to calm down; and 24/7 help accessible to purchasers in disaster, Cortani defined throughout a tour of the property June 24. OFP additionally works with different remedy suppliers to make sure the purchasers’ full vary of wants are met.

The OFP program is totally free, and purchasers solely must decide to the time to finish their service canine coaching. 

“If a shopper is in disaster and desires to return into their secure area, they’ll,” Cortani mentioned. “We attempt to give them instruments to have the ability to navigate their challenges.”

Cortani and OFP have earned nationwide recognition over time—together with as a “CNN Hero” in 2012. Earlier than accepting a plaque commemorating the District 17 honor, she was fast to provide credit score to her employees, board of administrators and supporters.

“To my employees and board members, you assist me to satisfy this mission every single day. I couldn’t do it with out my employees, and with out the superb group help that I’ve,” Cortani mentioned.

State senate District 17 contains south Santa Clara County, a portion of Monterey County and the whole thing of Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo counties.

Tran added that Laird “personally” appreciates the work the OFP does for veterans.

“He acknowledges the significance of constructing positive we offer (veterans) with providers after they come again. On the federal stage, typically these providers aren’t accessible to our veterans. Thanks, once more for highlighting the wants that veterans have,” Tran mentioned.

OFP shopper Steve Suchow, along with his service canine, Remmy, on the San Martin nonprofit June 24. Photograph: Michael Moore
OFP shopper Charles Fryman with Belle on the San Martin nonprofit June 24. Photograph: Michael Moore



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