Operation Freedom Paws trained Huey to help Ramon deal with PTSD

Photo courtesy Operation Freedom Paws
Ramon and his service dog Huey won the 2023 Purina Dog Chow Visible Impact Award.

By Marty Cheek

With a faithful furry friend by his side, a U.S. Army veteran’s life has taken a turn for the better. Ramon and his service dog Huey have formed a bond so profound it recently earned them national recognition.

The veteran-canine duo was named the 2023 recipient of the Dog Chow Visible Impact Award, honoring the chocolate Lab’s life-changing impact in detecting and responding to Ramon’s post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.

Through their San Martin-based service dog training group Operation Freedom Paws, man and dog found the healing connection that military members desperately need when transitioning to civilian life. Now their journey has shown the power of pups to provide critical support amid the scars of war.

Click HERE to read Ramon and Huey’s story that helped them win the award

Struggling to deal with his PTSD after serving in Iraq several years ago, Ramon reached out to OFP. Founded by Mary Cortani in 2010, the nonprofit is committed to saving lives through the connections formed between humans and their service dog.

After he was approved for the program, Ramon met Huey and they bonded immediately. They then spent the next year in training so the chocolate lab could learn the veteran’s behaviors and areas of need for assistance.

In honor of Veterans Day, the St. Louis-based Purina Dog Chow announced Nov. 9 the veteran and his furry buddy will receive the award. It recognizes Huey’s impact on Ramon’s life, detecting dizzy spells and migraines before they happen and helping the veteran open up to his family about his struggles.

The award recognizes the remarkable impact service dogs have on the lives of military veterans experiencing PTSD, said the company’s award spokesperson actor/singer Anthony Ramos in a press release.

Huey and Ramon will receive $10,000. Purina will also donate $25,000 to OFP. Additionally, the brand will donate $75,000 to the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans, to help train more dogs.

“All of our service dog finalists have made a significant impact for their veterans, but Huey’s story rose to the top for the thousands who voted,” Ramos said. “The award let us hear first-hand the role PTSD dogs play, and we know there are more who could benefit from a dog the way Ramon has.”

Earlier this year, Purina invited dog lovers nationwide to vote on selected service dog team finalists to help select the 2024 recipient of the award and bring recognition to nonprofits.

“Huey has saved my life in so many ways in the past six years,” said Ramon, who preferred to not use his last name for this story. “Not only has he helped me manage my PTSD symptoms and helped me become the father and husband I once was, he can detect a dizzy spell is coming on by smelling changes in my body’s chemistry and then stands between my legs to help me balance.”

OFPs’ clients include veterans and first-responders whose medical disabilities can be managed or mitigated by using a trained service dog.

OFP is grateful to Purina and the Association of Service Dog Providers for Military Veterans for raising awareness of how much trained service dogs can help veterans cope with the psychological and physical impacts of PTSD, Cortani said in an email.

“Thanks to everyone who voted for Huey and Ramon,” she said. “We are incredibly proud of them, not only for this win, but for all they have accomplished in the past six years. They are fantastic ambassadors for OFP, veterans with service dogs, and for themselves.”

The prize will enable OFP to rescue another dog, match it with a veteran, and train them together to define and embrace their “new normal,” she said. During the next year, this client and their family will discover how the program can help them rebuild communication and find hope for the future.