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