This letter is being written to express my greatest thank you to
Freedom Fidos for helping me train my little Skyelar to be my service animal. I
am a Vietnam veteran who was diagnosed with PTSD in 2013, receiving a
100 percent permanent disability from the VA for this. I needed and wanted a
service animal to help me with the symptoms but all the other companies
wanted thousands of dollars to train a dog for me. I met Matt thru a chance
public appearance he made and discovered to my surprise that he trains dogs for
FREE for veterans. He came over and evaluated my dog and trained him in 60
days. This man has a huge following and waiting list and anything that anyone
can do for this organization needs to be done. They will not accept money for
anything, vests, collars, etc.
Out of all the veterans organizations that claim to help veterans
Freedom Fidos is a true veterans organization with ALL proceeds and
donations going to acquire, house, feed and train service animal. I can not
thank them enough or emphasize enough how deserving Freedom Fidos is.
/s/ Robert Thompson
"Matt and Brinks are incredible! Freedom Fidos is such an honorable, selfless endeavor. Add Kristine and Oakley and you've got a team that inspires and awes! I am privileged to call them friends." Who Gets It, Naturally LLC
"Matt lives and leads from his heart. He lives his life purpose every day despite the disabilities he acquired while serving in the US Army. He builds strong and lasting relationships, and dedicates himself to personal and professional development every day." Ronda DelBoccio
"An evening with two gifted and impassioned people and their wonderful four-footed heroes was more than enjoyable. I felt privileged to hear the stories and see the faces. More to come.."BCS Content
"Wonderful, loving group of people who dedicate their lives to making a difference through service dog training and people in need of them." Soldier Fencing
"These people are amazing. What they do is even more amazing. I urge anybody that is looking to make charitable donations to pick this Foundation. I've seen these people and these animals in action and it is phenomenal. They're saving homeless dogs and using them to save disabled veterans: what could be more honorable than that?" Perry Meznick
"This is truly an amazing organization led by some of the most genuine and kind-hearted people I’ve ever had the opportunity to meet. Blessed to have crossed paths with y’all at my time at Mercer Law." Will Platt
More Testimonials from some of our Heroes…who are now Freedom Fidos Service Dog Handlers!
“The day I received Junior I was able to stop taking 3 psychotropic medications the VA has prescribed. I have stayed off of those medications for the last two months. I swear it’s like Junior has been able to heal things which no other resource could heal. For the past two months I have traveled to 30 state parks and interacted with numerous people. I don’t know if I would have been able to do this if I didn’t have Junior. Every morning I wake up to his panting tongue licking my face. In contrast to many days when I would have stayed in bed before, I now am excited to start my day with my best friend. He is my little healer, best friend, and gives me so many other things which I can’t even describe. Thank you for saving my life.”
“My name is Carl Colarusso. I'm retired Army with 25 years of service. I have PTSD in addition to numerous other health problems. Recently the Army sent my Son home with an honorable discharge because he was ill. He cut his head in a blast which never healed. So I moved my Son to my home in SC. Our VA here in Myrtle Beach also diagnosed him with PTSD. They did a chest MRI and swore that nothing was wrong. I was a medic 25 years and a 91 C medical specialist. Therefore, I could see the fluid sacks around his heart, kidneys and liver. When my Son passed away soon after, it sent me in a downward spiral. I was just waiting to die.
But one evening my wife (Beth) and I were watching the local news, and a short clip about Freedom Fidos was on. I called the phone number that they gave. It was the call that changed my life forever. I had been trying to get a service dog, from different agencies for 18 years. The going price was six thousand dollars or more. Other organizations wanted me to come to their location to help them raise the funds which was not a possibility due to my medical conditions. However, Freedom Fidos came to my house and was true to their advertising, which stated it was FREE. Matt Burgess, founder/ lead trainer and a disabled Vet himself, came to my home. We spoke and he evaluated my Chesapeake Bay retriever. We worked until Gunner was 9 months old. During this process Matt also took Gunner into his own pack to continue Gunners training. I now feel good about myself, and those around me.
We are honored to be able to tell you that due to our experience with Freedom Fidos and Mr. Matt Burgess, that our 7 month old Chesapeake Bay retriever has been transformed from a puppy to a dog of dignified stature. Our dog, Gunner, is now a working companion to help keep me calm and centered. I suffer from many back problems and am listed as 100% PTSD from the VA.
I feel that I have been given a new lease on life. Everywhere we go, from Dr. offices to grocery stores or group therapy at the VA, Freedom Fidos and Matt are on our lips. We can't tell enough people how Matt has transformed our lives. Gunner does all that he is asked or expected of him and more. Whether it be walking with my wife Beth around the neighborhood or assisting to my needs and providing aid and comfort to me when I am stressed, receive numerous benefits from Gunner.
My health has greatly improved including weight loss, lower blood pressure and lower blood sugar levels from my time spent with Gunner. We would like to thank Freedom Fidos and Matt for still serving those of us who served our country.”
God Bless America
Carl and Beth Colarusso U.S. Army Ret.
“Wow, I am so happy and excited to find Freedom Fidos. I have been trying for 1.5 years to get my dog, Jethro, trained to be my service dog. Many organizations wanted to give me one of their dogs but wouldn't train my dog. The ones that would train Jethro wanted $4000-8000 even though they said it was free to Veterans. Freedom Fidos is a "NO BS", no fee, for Veterans. He trains Jethro 2-3 times a week with GREAT improvement. I had been paying $60 an hour to a previous trainer and would only get lessons twice a month. Frequently I waited over two months.. Matt is always on time and willing to be flexible with my schedule needs. I would give this "REAL" non-profit 10 star's if I could. I can’t find enough words to express how pleased I am.”
“Although I received some positive results at two other service dog organizations before I found Freedom Fidos when I found this organization I found some of the benefits I experienced while I was in the Marines. Matt understands me and my needs not only as a service dog handler but also as a veteran. Recently when I informed him I was having a heart catheter, he would have been on his way to the hospital immediately if I had allowed him. He taught my dog, Croghan, things that no one else had been able to do. Other organizations taught me what to do as a service dog handler. Matt taught me how to think, which has resulted in me getting positive feedback about Croghan every time I am in public. During a recent three day stay in the hospital, Croghan behaved so well that he became the nurse’s favorite, leaving me a little envious. Matt, and Freedom Fidos has become like family to me.”
“A special thanks to Matt Burgess for providing this wonderful dog named Bronson to our son Austin. Matt was able to rescue Bronson from an abusive owner where he suffered much physical and emotional abuse .Austin likewise endured a difficult first several years of his life where he was the victim of both physical and emotional abuse. He was removed from that abusive home life and placed with our family. Austin was adopted into our family along with his sister Trinity. Matt with his keen sense of understanding dogs was able to see an instant connection between the two. He was very gracious in providing Bronson to Austin. The two have become simply inseparable .They have impacted each other’s life in a most remarkable way, Austin has multiple orthopedic issues that will need medical intervention in the near future as well as ongoing emotional support. The improvement we have seen in Austin since Bronson entered his life is just amazing. An old poet once said that a dog can somehow sense the innermost workings of the human heart. They both seem to understand the travails the other has endured. Their bond and connection has succeeded all of our expectations. Thanks again Matt. for your graciousness, your service to our country and most of all your friendship. God Bless.”
"Matt, I wanted to take the time to let you know that I'm immensely grateful to you for your dedication to helping veterans by placing them with service dogs. I also wanted to thank you and commend you on wanting to make sure that Chelsea was trained for the purposes that I needed. You, you were so right: I am NOT disappointed. We are perfectly matched. I love her so much already and I'm truly grateful to you for choosing her for me.
Thank you for listening to that inner voice and that intuition that let Chelsea to me and me to her. God Bless You and Freedom Fidos for the lives you change."
"First of all, thank you! My gratitude towards you guys is immeasurable. Again brother, thank you so much for the gift of Rocky. I don't know what i would do without him. He's the best. We have gotten so close man. I love taking him everywhere and being by my side. It really has helped me in more ways than I would have imagined. Everyone thinks he is the most well behaved and loving dog. He is really doing great. If it wasn’t for you i wouldn’t be where I am right now. Thank you and everyone else!"
"I cannot thank you enough brother. I get compliments from everyone at the gym on how well behaved he is and how beautiful he is. I tell them it is all you guys! I’m just grateful to have such a wonderful dog. I’m at a loss for words man. Thank you so much for everything you and Kristine do for everyone. Its a pleasure to know such great people ! "
"He also comes over when he knows I’m anxious or feeling anxiety and paws at me. It’s awesome. Thank you guys so much. I’m forever grateful!"
Kathy Vesey Maupin
A great organization for our disabled Veterans at no cost to them, please follow this great disabled Veteran and what he gives back to his fellow Veterans.
Cynthia Kolb Hawley
We love the training we are receiving from Freedom Fido’s it’s the best we recommend you check it out.
Freedom Fido’s is so awesome this page isn’t big enough for me to write. I do know his dedication to his fellow disabled Veteran’s is a service to our Veteran’s on the Grand Strand.
Brandie Jean Turner — Amazing group of people with HUGE hearts! We are beyond excited to be part of building awareness this year! Grateful for your service and grateful that you all are saving lives of animals in order to provide service dogs to Wounded Warriors and Veterans! Thanks for all you do!
I am writing to describe my experience, that first was out of need and then continues to be out of friendship, with Matt Burgess.
Four years ago I had a very tragic accident to my right hand which with 3 surgeries and over a year in casts, still resulted in the loss of my middle finger and limited use of my right hand. Being right handed this took a toll on me mentally and physically. Thus leading down a road to depression.
Having seen Matt at several events in the past, I knew the wonderful work he’s doing for Veterans with service animals. The first time I ran into Matt after my accident he of course wanted to know what had happened and then he looked at me and told me the wounds will heal but we need to get to work on healing your whole body, heart and mind.
Even though I’m not a Veteran myself, I am the daughter of a disabled Vietnam Veteran and Matt saw what I needed and selflessly offered to train my 9 week goldendoodle. I didn’t have any income since my accident, but that did not phase Matt...Matt could see my depression and was going to do whatever it took to get me back to my previous self.
So training began...most days I couldn’t tell if Matt was in more pain than me...but NEVER ONCE did he complain and he worked with me and my dog until my “pet” was a Service Dog. We call him my right hand because he literally is. He carries numerous items for me such as my purse, cell phone, groceries...I could go on and on. He also picks up everything I drop, which is a lot only using one hand.
Matt Burgess truly is a blessing in my life and I could not believe he would do this for me knowing I could not pay him. I KNOW I would not be the person I am today without Matt...he gave me my right hand back, healed my heart and mind and he did it through the miracle of a four legged friend and his huge heart for humanity.
Matt doesn’t live extravagantly...when I was training with him one day I went inside the facility house and there is barely any furniture, no material possessions and I realized he does something only a small few do in this me, me, me society...Matt gives, gives, gives. Please feel free to email me if you would like to hear more via a phone call.
Service Dog Superstars:
A heartbreaking search for hope and humanity.
When I’m blessed to be out at a Freedom Fidos Service Dog Supersar demonstration, what intrigues me most is watching the spectators’ eyes and identifying that moment when someone’s interest surpasses the sheer adorability of the wiggly, waggly puppies and transcends into the unfathomable.
That point-of-highest-intrigue, that moment when I know we’ve got someone’s enraptured attention, differs amongst ages.
For the littlest fans, it’s when Oakley, a golden doodle who owns the catwalk, picks up an earring and returns it to his mama, Kristine, without swallowing it. For many of the older kids, it’s watching Oakley carry around a bucket for donations or finding out that they can get Scout badges or school credit for volunteering with puppies.
For the adults, the turning point is most often hearing that Freedom Fidos’ canine co-founder, Brinks, can indeed change out laundry and move it to the dryer, even if he doesn’t find the value in folding clothes that Matt, his human counterpart, will just wear again.
Finally, for the families of veterans, first responders, and children with special needs, that pivotal threshold, so often full of emotion, occurs when they find out Freedom Fidos is a nonprofit that trains shelter pups to be life-saving service dogs at no cost to the handlers’ families. Hope is able to spark again in the hearts of those so desperate for the physical and emotional support of a service dog but without easy access to $30,000. That’s a fairly average cost for a family to pay to train a dog to carry out the very specific needs of that dog’s particular handler.
In a world filled with so much fear and distrust, any glimmer of hope offers sanctuary. That’s what it feels like to visit the Freedom Fidos facility near Columbus, GA—I never leave Matt, Kristine, the dogs, and those four acres of land without a sense of tranquility and a reminder of the presence of humanity.
However, there’s so much more to the picture than the clean, well-groomed, well-trained dogs that show up at events or demonstrations. Matt and Kristine won’t tell you any of this. Their hearts are fully give-give-give and never complain. I want to offer a glimpse into what daily life looks like for them:
It looks like a half-finished kennel: With a projected budget of $12,000 for all supplies and tool rental, Matt and a handful of volunteers have completed the first $5,000 worth of a state-of-the-art dog kennel. Eventually, this stand-alone structure will provide shelter for sixteen dogs as well as an indoor training room and grooming station so that training can continue in even the most inclement weather. It’s half-finished because a promised donation never came through
It looks like two-gallon bottles of Mountain Dew: The kennel means exponentially more than safe, hygienic shelter for sixteen dogs; it means that Matt and Kristine will have a chance to sleep for more than a couple hours at a time. It means that they will be able get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, grab an extra blanket, or refill a water without waking up the dogs who respond to any movement at all with, “Woohoo! It must be morning! Let’s get ready to wrestle and play! Boy, do we loooooove eating breakfast!”
It looks like a non-handicap accessible RV: It turned out to be a blessing when a puppy chewed a hole in the bedroom floor of the house that existed on the property when Matt and Kristine moved in. Further examination revealed that black mold had thrived under five layers of linoleum. While this discovery solved the mystery of chronic migraines;especially given Matt only has 40% use of both lungs anyways in addition to remaining committed to donating his income to their Mission in contrast to getting the floor fixed Matt and Kristine chose to relocate into an RV that was not at all designed with accessibility in mind. They lived in the RV and a 20 by 20 building for a year and half with no heat and AC.
It looks like a 46-year-old veteran standing up with two legs and two arms: He’d rather not use his walker, which doesn’t fit through most doorways anyways. However, because his disabilities aren’t visible and he’s not missing any limbs, he’s disqualified from so many grants and assistance programs: “Those who were shot by our own government (Anthrax) or received illness (top five killers I have) or aren't a really clear case fall between the cracks.” Unfortunately, even a 100%, lifetime disability rating from the Veteran’s Administration means significantly less if the disabilities aren’t visible.
It looks like an honorable discharge without a Purple Heart: This veteran is no less heroic than any other soldier who enlisted to defend his country for eight years. The only difference here is that this veteran was not shot with a gun in enemy combat; rather, it was the country he selflessly volunteered to defend that shot him with an untested, non-FDA-approved Anthrax vaccination. This vaccine is the reason he has eighteen different medical conditions. Regardless of what military commendations he has, his loyalty, humbleness, compassion, generosity, and stubborn determination to help others define his heroism.
It looks like someone both weary and wary of hospitals and doctors. Matt chose not to report the first three blast explosions he experienced in Bosnia because he wanted to continue being a soldier. The term “Traumatic Brain Injury” wasn’t around then anyways, and “Gulf War Syndrome” remained equally as ambiguous. He went on to graduate second in his class at Military Police School and was deployed to Iraq. It was only after being blown off a Humvee and knocked unconscious when a camel stepped on an IED that he was medivacked back to the U.S. and eventually admitted to the Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital, where he then added sexual assault to the list.
It looks like counting out pennies at the Dollar General to buy spaghetti sauce at the end of the month: There are months on end when Freedom Fidos receives no monetary donations. Matt lives on his disability check from the VA , Social Security, and Combat related Special Compensation. After bills are paid, donating the majority of his income to Freedom Fidos, and barring any emergencies—trips to the veterinarian, a tire blowout, antibiotics—that leaves a grand total of $705.91 for food, gas, clothes, cleaning supplies, and life. They have no debt, no car loans to pay off, and yet they find themselves necessarily consuming Ramen noodles at the rate of graduate students.
It looks like arriving back at the facility at 2 or 3 AM from several states away: Finding trustworthy, reliable help has proven bewilderingly burdensome. The ONLY person at the facility receives monetary compensation—EVER—is whomever is hired to care for the dogs when
Matt and Kristine need to be out of town for a conference or event. However, each time they return home and experience guilt and heartbreak as they have once again been duped by another individual making it more and more difficult for the organization to accept out-of-town invitations that might yield corporate sponsorships.
It looks like a yard full of yetis: No matter how long it has been since the last rainstorm, these pups sniff out mud with similar acumen to pigs seeking truffles. The dogs wrestle and play, with the slobber exchanged during rousing episodes. The process of getting Oakley, a single golden doodle, ready for a public appearance requires an entire bottle of shampoo, a scrub brush, all of the hot water the tank can hold as one time, a blowout session with Kristine’s hair dryer, and then extensive brushing and trimming. Yes, the ever-so-handsome prima donna’s grooming bag is larger than most women’s purses!
It looks like typos in emails: Neuropathy is caused by nerve damage and most commonly manifests as tingling and numbness in any or all of an individual’s extremities. Not being able to feel one’s own fingers turns typing what used to be a quick email into a painstakingly disheartening drain on both time and energy.
It looks like unreturned phone calls when the wind knocks down the power lines.
It looks like frustrated volunteers because “How can I help?” is too overwhelming of a question for a simple answer.
It looks like tennis balls and rope toys strewn about the property from when the dogs romp and play during their five miles of daily exercise.
It looks like the dread of walking to the mailbox, hoping for donation checks and receiving endless bills.
And even so, at the very heart, the very core, the very essence of it all, it looks like hope.
Transcending what could easily manifest as paralyzing fear in a world of financial lack and uncertainty, there is this four-acre piece of country land. That piece of land houses this non-profit that remains committed to an ego-free zone and an open-book policy. This organization is run all day and all night by two selfless individuals, who’ve sacrificed all material luxuries to stand behind their mission to train these goofy pups into life-saving, people-changing, world-altering Service Dog Superstars.
Ultimately, no matter what daily life looks like, Freedom Fidos offers me the deepest, most heartfelt reminder that genuine humanity still exists. And I refuse to let go of the hope that there isn’t enough humanity out there left to support this mission.
Another Modern Day, Mother Teresa,
Kristine Duncan spent her childhood years watching her Vietnam Veteran Father, who received a Bronze Star. This inspiration created unquenchable respect and desire to impact the lives of Veterans.
She is a trainer, the treasurer, Board Member, and one of the two volunteers at the Freedom Fidos facilty often working 18 hour days. She is committed to a man who donates his income to charity, is obsessed with what drives him which is serving humanity and canines creating impactful journeys between nature's ultimate healers and Veterans. She not only made his vision her vision she has made that vision our vision.
For over a year she has not lived in a house. She spent much of last winter shivering and adding jackets due to no heat. She spent this summer sweating profusely due to inadequate AC in a 12 x 24 outbuilding.
If the Freedom Fidos Board President is authentic, loving open even when it hurts, reaching beyond the edge to give the world his gifts, she is all in and has never complained. She often reminds him of his why when he wants to give up. She reminds him he can't give up because if he did then it was about him and not serving humanity. She often knows his why better then he does. Despite sleeping on a .5 inch mattress feeling the springs creating significant pain she wakes up smiling and with a joke loving her dog Oakley.
Last winter as she walked to the house to use the restroom, she started singing, I'm your shadow, waving her hands, making us both double over with laughter as the cold weather was no longer a factor. That moment was living large to her.
She feels fulfilled interacting with the SDIT, being around humanity, and watching the human spirit come alive repeatedly because of nature's ultimate healers.If she had to answer a genie or an either-or, she will easily say I want the feel-good of being inspired by humanity overcoming adversity. She will talk about that for days.Some of her most prized moments are when she leaves and event making the long drives past so quickly as she recounts every interaction with the amazingly kind people which made her day. After the dogs are living large often leaving $17 in the bank account she will tell you she is happy and fulfilled. Smiles abound abundantly every day around here because of Kristine.
She provides many smiles and lights up a room repeatedly. However, don't let those smiles and humor fool you as beneath them lies a huge heart that deeply cares for humanity and will do anything within her power, while giving up much personal gain, although she doesn't feel that way, in order to help humanity and canines. She is one of the most kind, steadfast,caring, on purpose, inspiring people I have had the honor to know.
When I occasionally have to attend an event alone this is the typical situation, "Ohhhh, Hi Matt,(chopped liver-smiles) where's Kristine?' Which is awesome to see.
She is largely responsible for much of the growth at Freedom Fidos, the successful training of the SDIT, the relationships created, and much more.
When cameras come around she quickly steps back. When people come around who want help she is the quickest one to step in.
The picture on the book perfectly portrays the heart and love Kristine gives to many every day. She repeatedly insisted on not being included in the book preferring to let others tell their story not concerned about her-story. Therefore making the front cover of the book even more significant.
With many idols in my life and incorporating their characteristics and adapting their behaviors and mindsets, Mother Tereasa is very high on that list. I have been deeply honored to meet several modern-day Mother Teresa's over the last year and had the pinch me living honor to watch one every day as I smile that old fashioned smile watching, Kristine.
Much Love and Gratitude.