Mutt Strut: Pittsburgh events benefit group that provides service dogs to veterans
After a two-year hiatus, the Community Mutt Strut of Pittsburgh has returned for a day of in-person fun for four-legged friends and their pals, all for a good cause.
The event, held virtually during the covid-19 pandemic, benefits Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc., a Florida-based nonprofit that rescues, breeds and trains dogs to provide military veterans with essential companionship.
“We’re here to raise awareness of what our veterans are up against,” said Plum resident Bill Jeffcoat. “These veterans return home with visible and invisible disabilities: post-traumatic stress, brain trauma, insulin dependence, seizure disorders, mobility issues.”
He is president of Life Changing Service Dogs for Veterans, a Pittsburgh-area organization established seven years ago to support the mission of guardian angels.
“These dogs allow these veterans to be part of society. They can go out, find a job and be part of the community again.
Among those in attendance for the Sept. 10 festivities was Carol Borden, founder and chief executive of Guardian Angels, headquartered in Williston, Florida.
“What a perfect day to organize the Mutt Strut, because it’s National Suicide Prevention Day. And that’s what we’re doing,” she said.
A major impetus behind his organization is to help reduce the number of veterans who commit suicide, with the oft-cited statistic of 22 a day.
“Our suicide rate is still zero,” Borden said of the guardian angel pairings, which have been going on for 12 years.
Mutt Strut’s main sponsor was PNC Financial Services Group Inc.
“We do a lot of things at PNC that we’re really proud of throughout the year, but for me, that’s all over the top,” said Gregory Jordan, executive vice president, general counsel and chief administrative officer. “It’s so straightforward. It’s so powerful, and I think it’s so meaningful.
Since 2016, PNC has raised enough money on behalf of Guardian Angels to provide the financial resources needed to train nearly three dozen dogs, according to Jordan.
“You can say 35 dogs,” he said. “But when I hear that, I think 35 lives.”
The training of the dogs aims to alleviate the challenges of veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, and the dogs are also taught to detect medical emergencies, such as internal bleeding.
“These dogs are becoming vital,” Jeffcoat said.
His organization, which was founded by Vietnam-era veterans Tony Accamando and George D’Angelo in 2015, is working to raise funds to build a Guardian Angels campus in Robinson Township, Washington County. The estimate is that the new facility will double the training capacity of the dogs.
Jeffcoat is another Vietnam veteran, serving with the US Marine Corps as a dog handler. Although the military valued the dogs as scouts and trackers, most were euthanized overseas rather than returned to the United States, including Jeffcoat’s partner Fraulein.
On a positive note, Mutt Strut 2022 surpassed its fundraising goal of $300,000, attracting supporters and dog lovers from across the region. Traveling from her Hampton home, for example, was Emily Murphy.
“For a few years, we have not been able to participate because of the pandemic. But it’s nice to be back and show support for the organization,” she said of Guardian Angels.
Representing Unleashed Doggie Daycare in West Deer, she brought Farrow, a therapy dog who visits facilities such as nursing homes and assisted living facilities to provide comfort and support to residents.
Many more visited with their dogs to enjoy the activities, including the main event, with many costumed pooches as they paraded along a path near Frick Park’s Lawn Bowling Greens.
“Dogs are the heroes. They are amazing. But you’re all heroes too, because you’re here to support this event, to have a good time, to bring your own dogs to have fun,” Borden said ahead of the parade. “So let’s have fun.”
For more information, visit www.medicalservicedogs.org and www.padogsforvets.org.
Harry Funk is a news editor for Tribune-Review. You can contact Harry at [email protected]