Published in the January 17 – 30, 2018 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By John English

Photo courtesy Operation Freedom Paws
Brian gets a kiss from his dog Kameza.

Located in San Martin’s Industrial and Commercial zone, you will find Operation Freedom Paws on Llagas Avenue. Surrounded by the local transfer station, a large used car business, and a building material supplier sits this unique nonprofit. The name Operation Freedom Paws may conjure up a military operation or something connected with animals, and you’d be close to the mark on both counts.

OFP is a nonprofit organization that was formed about seven years ago with the specific purpose of empowering veterans and others with disabilities to live a quality life by teaching them to train their own dogs and to become well-trained service dog teams, at no cost to them. The OFP organization is the brainchild of Mary Cortani, whose background includes time in the military training dogs.  Mary’s passion and hard work toward forming OFP resulted in being voted in the top 10 of CNN Heroes and for being recognized with the Central Coast Jefferson Award, a prestigious national recognition system honoring community and public volunteerism in America. The groups of dedicated volunteers and donated monies from various sources continue to fund day-to-day work which helps finance the commercial dog training and boarding operations.

OFP was originally established in Gilroy, where the accommodations were rather cramped. San Martin was thrilled to welcome OFP, where they now operate a large establishment they converted from a rundown vandalized property into a pristine model for canine training. The facility sits on 4.2 acres and consists of two renovated 8,000-square-foot buildings and a renovated 2,400-square-foot office building. It includes indoor and outdoor kennels, with the complete property landscaped to provide wide grassy space for dogs to run, ability to hold dog agility courses and areas to sit and interact with the dogs. This now beautiful location would not have been possible without the generous act of Recology, who owns the property, as well as the donations from Peninsula Building Materials in San Martin.

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Several years ago, Recology’s management decided that since they had no use for the property, they wanted to offer it to a worthy cause, for a nominal fee of $1 per year, to benefit San Martin, rather than sell it. With costs for renovation, county permits and need of professional help, it led to the conclusion that an organization like OFP would be the ideal candidate and who could attract funding to make the best use of the property. The success story of OFP can be found on their website, www.operationfreedompaws.org where you can also read and sign-up to receive the OFP newsletter.

Most of the dogs at OFP come from rescue shelters and OFP has become a special place to many in the community and to those who volunteer. The benefits OFP provides are many, but the non-obvious include how the dogs are involved in working with local community police and law enforcement, as well as with therapists, schools, and hospitals.

One can only hope the dogs know how wonderful and needed the work is they are performing. We applaud and give thanks to all the trained dogs, wonderful volunteers, and to the organizations that support this unique charity known as Operation Freedom Paws. Another jewel of the South Valley, OFP has found a home within San Martin. We are truly proud and honored to add this fine organization to the many gemstones in our community.

John English is an OFP volunteer and past SMNA board member. It was edited by Trina Hineser, president of the SMNA.

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