Operation Freedom Paws

Sailor First Class Serge Lacasse with his dog Galley.

Sailor First Class Serge Lacasse with his dog Galley.

Peter Mallett
Staff Writer

A Royal Canadian Navy sailor is putting his best paws forward for charity.

Sailor First Class Serge Lacasse, 36, has joined forces with Operation Freedom Paws Canada to help promote their goal of empowering veterans and individuals with disabilities by teaching them to train their own dog and certify them as a service dog.

Through a special therapeutic canine-human relationship, veterans and others can live an enriched life despite their disability.

“A relationship with a dog is all about chemistry,” said S1 Lacasse of his dog Galley, who he acquired five months ago with the help of the charity. “We hit it off immediately, as soon as he saw me he came up to me and licked my face and that was it.”

He is currently coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a psychological ailment developed over eight years working in submarines, and is now transitioning out of the navy.

“I suffered from all the classic symptoms and I was considered completely dysfunctional in society,” he says. “I couldn’t go out in public or even go to the grocery store without anxiety and panic attacks, and wanted to remove myself from society, and my relationship with my friends and spouse had completely crumbled.”

S1 Lacasse has promoted the charity to Canadian Submarine Force, submarines HMCS Victoria and HMCS Chicoutimi, Maritime Forces Pacific Headquarters, HMCS Regina and the Esquimalt Military Police and they have all chosen to support Operation Freedom Paws through the National Defence Workplace Charitable Campaign (NDWCC).

“I have seen first-hand the affect this program has had on S1 Lacasse and was very happy to see the smile back on his face and that familiar personality we are all used to,” said CPO2 Michael (Rob) Tibbetts, CANSUBFOR Chief. “He is an immensely proud submariner and wears his dolphins with pride wherever he goes.”

The Canadian version of the U.S.-based charity began last year by Qualicum Beach resident Barbara Ashmead. She matches rescue dogs with individuals and teaches them how to train their dog properly. The end goal is to have both dog and owner certified under the B.C. Guide Dog and Service Dog Act.

In a large riding ring in Fanny Bay, dogs and owners train a minimum of twice a week for 48 weeks to earn their certification. Crucial to the certification process is a dog’s ability to recognize their owner’s trigger symptoms and how to help calm them.

“With training dogs and their handlers, it’s all about practice, practice, practice, and a whole lot of patience and learning to recognize the dog alerts. The process takes a great deal of time but the payoff is well worth it,” says Ashmead. “The very special therapeutic canine-human relationship helps them get back out in their communities and begin to view their future with renewed hope.”

The cost of acquiring a fully-trained service dog can cost up to $40,000 or more depending on the client’s health issues, but with Operation Freedom Paws training is provided free of charge.

Donations provide support for the rescue dog fees, training equipment, veterinary treatments, dog food and team training. They have received a $20,000 donation from Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services charity Boomer’s Legacy. Then a local business, Lighthouse Veterinary Hospital donated the riding ring on their property, normally used to train horses, which is the perfect venue to provide training in a safe, physically distanced environment.

For more information about Operation Freedom Paws Canada (CRA charity 772042735) and how to support them visit https://ofpcanada.org or phone 250-954-5552.


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  1. Lookout says:

    Thanks for your note, Chris. The correct number is 250-954-5552. We’ve contacted them about the error on their website.

  2. Chris Carnall CD ret'd CPO2 says:

    the contact phone number is wrong….iaw their web page the phone number should read 250-854-5552

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