Retrieving Freedom in rural Waverly got its nonprofit status in October 2011. Operated by Scott Dewey, the organization trains service dogs for children with autism and veterans with physical disabilities or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
"We had no idea at that time the demand for service dogs for veterans, let alone children with autism," said Scott Dewey.
Dewey previously ran competition retrievers for 14 years. He was gone about 200 days of the year. He wanted a job that still allowed him to work with dogs, but also allowed him to spend more time at home with his family. That's one of the main reasons he started Retrieving Freedom.
Here's a quick overview of how Retrieving Freedom operates. First, a litter of puppies is born in a donor home. Then at eight weeks old, those puppies go to another donor family until about six months of age. From there, the puppies comes to Retrieving Freedom for training for the next 18 months (until they reach the age of two).
Scott Dewey says all along the way, the dogs are teaching people the importance of giving back.
"So these dogs don't just help the person in the end, they help the whole community," said Dewey.
Dewey said Retrieving Freedom is a one dog, one person program. That means training is catered to the needs of the applicant. Part of the dog's training involves going to a Military Families and Subcultures class at Wartburg College in Waverly twice a week. The 27 students get to better understand the use of service dogs and help Scott Dewey with training.
"I've been so impressed with Scott because the training is excellent. He makes sure these dogs are well trained and take care of the people they're going to," said Professor Susan Vallem with Wartburg.
The students also get a chance to see first-hand the impact a service dog can have. Chad Johnson is a volunteer with Retrieving Freedom. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Johnson got his dog Copper on his own, but he was put in contact with Dewey to help train him as a service dog. Copper is still in training, but is already helping with Johnson's social anxiety.
"Copper has been a world of help for me and my family with coming back from a deployment," said Chad Johnson.
Dewey said he believes the suicide rate among returning veterans is too high.
"I believe the only true prevention to suicide is giving somebody a reason to live for tomorrow, and that's what these guys (dogs) do," said Dewey.
One four-legged friend at a time, Scott Dewey and his volunteers are making a difference in the lives of children with autism and veterans.
Retrieving Freedom doesn't charge people for the dogs. It simply asks for "due diligence" in helping to raise $5800. Applications for dogs are available by clicking here.
You're invited to learn more about Retrieving Freedom on Saturday, April 27th at Centennial Oaks Golf Club in Waverly at 5:30.
At that time, an autistic boy we've featured before, Tristan Kuhn, will be getting his service dog.