Event raises about $300,000 for train­ing and pair­ing vet­er­ans with ser­vice dogs

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - - The Region - By Pa­tri­cia Sa­ba­tini

Pitts­burgh Post-Gazette

Not ev­ery dog was a mutt, but they all had fun strut­ting their stuff at the Pitts­burgh Com­mu­nity Mutt Strut on Satur­day in Frick Park, a fund-rais­ing event for plac­ing ser­vice dogs with vet­er­ans suf­fer­ing with PTSD.

“I think we’re go­ing to need a big­ger park next year,” event chair­man Greg Jor­dan said as he sur­veyed the roughly 500 peo­ple par­tic­i­pants and some 200 dogs en­joy­ing the warm, over­cast but rain-free morn­ing.

Cor­po­rate dona­tions, ven­dor fees and a $22 en­trance fee were ex­pected to raise about $300,000 to sup­port Guardian An­gels Med­i­cal Ser­vice Dogs Inc. in Florida — enough money to train and pair dogs with about 15 vet­er­ans in the Pitts­burgh area. That’s up from just un­der $200,000 raised at last year’s in­au­gu­ral event that re­sulted in plac­ing nine dogs lo­cally.

Ev­ery day, an aver­age of 20 vet­er­ans are lost to sui­cide due to post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, ac­cord­ing the the U.S. Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs. The ser­vice dog pro­gram is try­ing to help save those lives.

Roughly 1,000 vet­er­ans na­tion­wide have ser­vice dogs, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Jor­dan, gen­eral coun­sel and chief administrative of­fi­cer at PNC. Since the dogs were placed, “We haven’t lost one to sui­cide,” he said.

Army vet­eran Ti­mothy Keller­mann said get­ting his ser­vice dog — a black and tan, 18-month-old fe­male Ger­man shep­herd named Pi­lot — about four months ago on the rec­om­men­da­tion of his coun­selor has meant every­thing to him.

“The pills weren’t help­ing,” said Mr. Keller­mann, who was di­ag­nosed with post trau­matic stress dis­or­der after serv­ing 13 months in com­bat in Afghanistan in 2007-08.

“She changed my whole life,” he said Satur­day, chok­ing up with emo­tion. “I can get out in pub­lic again. She lets me know when I need to get out. She doesn’t let me get up­set. It’s crazy.”

James and Lari Berry of the North Side had been plan­ning to at­tend Satur­day’s event since see­ing a flier about it in May.

“It’s a great cause,” Mr. Berry said. “And it’s a lot of fun.”

The cou­ple’s black lab, Lucy, came dressed for the cos­tume con­test as a uni­corn, although she kept shak­ing the pink, fuzzy horn off her head.

Rov­ing judges, in­clud­ing vet­er­ans and chil­dren, were on hand to award prizes for best cos­tumes and best-in-show in the small, medium and large dog cat­e­gories. There also was a prize for an over­all best-in-show. The fun in­cluded mu­sic, food and pet-re­lated ven­dors.

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