Freedom Service Dogs serves up mojitos and largesse with a heartwarming finish

It was a party in a $20 million mansion, and I'm not going to lie: I went for the free booze. And because I've never partied in a $20 million mansion before. As it turns out, though, Mutts, the Mansion and Mojitos, a fundraiser for Freedom Service Dogs, was really all about a unique, first-rate organization that's doing some great work, and even though the first mojito was good and the second one better, that turned out to be beside the point.

The point, of course, was that FSD, like all non-profit organizations, needs money. "By the time we're done with all the training," said Perry Jowsey, director of development for FSD, "each dog costs us about $20,000 to $25,000. It's very expensive."

That's at least partly because of what makes FSD unique: Rather than buying or breeding dogs specifically to be service dogs for the disabled, as most similar organizations do, FSD rescues dogs from the streets or shelters and trains them from the ground up. Beyond that, what makes FSD particularly notable is that any dog it can't train to be a service dog, it adopts out; no dog ever gets put down.

Steve Ireland and Speedy
Steve Ireland and Speedy

And not every dog can make the cut. "They wash out for being typical dogs," said Steve Ireland, a long-time FSD donor who recently adopted a retired service dog named Speedy, whose owner died. "Like chasing squirrels. You can't have a service dog chasing squirrels." Ireland also pointed out that one advantage to adopting an FSD dog is that they're already very well trained--and Ireland said the adoption has worked out great for him. "I just retired," he said, "so we're both retired seniors."

Dogs who do make the cut might be assigned to a variety of tasks. Generally, Jowsey said, the work is split up into two divisions: Many dogs get assigned to veterans whose wounds impair their mobility, or very often to those with severe post-traumatic stress disorder. "Therapy dogs can have a big impact with that," said Jowsey.

Others get assigned to those with more generalized mobility impairment, such as those with spinal-cord injuries, muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis. "One of our clients with MS," said Jowsey, "her stomach muscles have atrophied to the point where she can't lift herself out of bed in the morning. So what she'll do is, she has this sort of rope chew toy, and she'll call the dog, and he'll come and grab onto this chew toy and literally pull her out of bed."

Freedom Service Dogs serves up mojitos and largesse with a heartwarming finish
Olivia, Devyn and Reagan

Aside from raising some funds (FSD estimated attendance at about 250, and entry was, well, let's say it was pretty expensive), the benefit also showcased a lot of very committed volunteers -- like Reagan, Devyn and Olivia, three girls from Acre's Green Elementary in Lone Tree who were serious about their work.

"We were going to become our own 501(c)3," explained Devyn, who later handed me -- and I thought this was so awesome -- her business card. "But we realized we weren't quite old enough." Nevertheless, Devyn was committed to getting involved with service dogs, and when her mom saw a blurb on FSD on TV, she pointed the three girls in that direction. Ever since, they've been organized as Lend A Paw, working to raise funds for FSD -- at a recent fundraiser at their school, they said they'd been able to raise a couple of hundred dollars. Not too shabby.

Freedom Service Dogs serves up mojitos and largesse with a heartwarming finish
The high life

But in the end, what I set out to find was how rich people live -- and the answer, of course, was "extravagantly." There was a writing desk and phone in the bathroom, for heaven's sake, apparently just in case you need to multi-task at all times. And by the time I left, I was feeling so entitled I was miffed that the valet service took too long to fetch my car. Now that's living large.

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