DENVER – Brandon Burge knew he needed help. He just didn't know how to get it. After suffering a spinal cord injury, his family thought a service dog would be the perfect companion to help keep him from falling. But they could scarcely afford one.
"It's hard to put into words," Burge said of his struggle.
With an average cost of $30,000, service dogs are difficult for many people to afford. Brandon's wife tried to raise the money through a Go Fund Me page. 9NEWS found out about the effort and connected Burge with Freedom Service Dogs, a non-profit organization that gives services dogs to people with disabilities.
"We actually offer service dogs at no cost," said Stacey Candella of Freedom Service Dogs. "Most organizations will charge thousands of dollars. But in our mind, we feel our clients— whether they be those with mobility impairments or veterans coming home— they have so many medical bills. It's just not possible for them to come up with that kind of money to get a service dog."
Freedom Service Dogs partners with local animal shelters to identify dogs that could make good service dogs. The dogs are trained for months before being matched with their human companions.
Brandon was matched with McCloud, a 2-and-a-half-year old chocolate lab with lots of energy and a body that's big and sturdy enough to help prevent Brandon from falling or help him get up if he does fall. It's a job that McCloud has already started to master.
"I got down on the ground," Burge said. "And I was starting to try to get up. He got in front of me and moved himself to where I could put my hands on his back to get up… He knows more of what I need, I think, than I do sometimes."
Freedom Service Dogs relies on donations and volunteers to do most of its work. Nine full-time trainers are among the only paid workers for the non-profit. In the beginning stages, dogs are taught basic commands by prison inmates who are part of a specialized program.
"Our dogs are taught up to 50 commands. Things such as opening the refrigerator, opening the laundry, pulling the laundry out of the dryer," said Candella. "Because if you think about it, if you have a mobility impairment and you're in a wheelchair, you can't really reach into the dryer."
Those tasks worry Brandon Burge a lot less, now that he has McCloud. The brown-eyed pup also has an emotional benefit.
"He provides support," said Burge. "And just having him there is good. (It) makes you feel better."
To learn more about how you can give or receive help from Freedom Service Dogs, click here: https://freedomservicedogs.org/
(© 2015 KUSA)