Pet Tales: Many more veterans will get service dogs

Donations can change a person’s life, especially when the money helps to train German shepherds to serve and assist military veterans.

Nearly two years ago, Life Changing Service Dogs for Veterans was formed with the goal of raising enough money to provide canine companions at a cost of $22,000 per dog.The group hoped to help 22 veterans dealing with PTSD and other wounds of war because 22 is the number of veterans who commit suicide every day, according to some veterans groups. 

“Mission accomplished!” according to the Veterans Day announcement last week.

A total of $1.3 million was donated in 22 months, enough to train 60 dogs. Now the group is planning to build a local facility where dogs can be bred, raised and trained by Florida-based Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc.

Twenty local veterans are living and working with their dogs, and later this month two more will receive dogs specially trained for them. The suicide rate is zero among veterans who have received a Guardian Angels dog.

Currently, all of the dogs are bred and trained in Williston, Fla. For the past 22 months, Carol Borden, the trainer who founded Guardian Angels in 2009, has been traveling back and forth from her home to Pittsburgh to offer refresher training courses for the dogs and their partners.

Raising money to build a local facility “is our new campaign for the next 22 months,” said Vietnam veteran Tony Accamando, who started Life Changing Service Dogs with John Piazza, also a Vietnam veteran. They own and operate Veterans Cable Services in Bethel Park, which hires veterans.

There is no timeline yet for the new facility, but “we are close to an agreement” on acquiring a location, Mr. Accamando said.

Service dogs named Faith and Ranger have been highlighted in Pet Tales. Photos of all 20 dogs and their partners were printed in the program for the 19th annual Veterans Day Breakfast at Duquesne University last Saturday.

Medical service dogs help ease the daytime anxiety and nightmares of soldiers who suffered traumatic brain injuries or PTSD. Some dogs will wake their partners if their blood sugar becomes too high or too low. Others are trained to help veterans who have mobility issues.

Donations to train them have come from many individuals and organizations, including PNC Bank’s Mutt Strut fundraisers, Pittsburgh Foundation, Pittsburgh Steelers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Armstrong Utilities, Veterans Cable Services, the Duquesne University community, Colcom Foundation, Allegheny Financial Groups, Armstrong Utilities,, the Scott Noxin Fund and Fairbanks Family Fund.

Donations to Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs can be mailed to 150 Hillside Drive, Bethel Park, PA 15102.

Runaway rescue dog

Odin was one of 70 great Pyrenees running wild on a 35-acre fenced estate in Florida. Their owner had once competed with the big white dogs in shows. But as the woman’s health deteriorated, the dogs ran wild and bred and produced puppies — with no human contact. 

Animal welfare groups around the country stepped up to rescue the dogs that they considered to be victims of hoarding.  Lynn Pilarski of the Great Pyrenees Club of Western Pennsylvania took in six of them. In June, they were transported here by the Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team. Each was placed with a foster family.

None of the dogs had ever lived in a house. Because Odin, 2, was especially anxious inside, his foster “mom” in Cranberry slept outside with him every night. 

On June 28, the foster mom went inside her house for 5 minutes, and when she came back outside Odin was gone. With help from Ms. Pilarski and the people she calls “Odin’s Angels,” the owner searched for him for four months. Social media pages alerted the public to Odin’s plight and fliers were posted throughout the North Hills. Every time someone called to report a sighting, the angels went out looking for him.

Odin became wilder and more fearful by the day. He would not come to anyone and resisted all efforts to trap him.

On Nov. 1, a man in Sarver called to report that a big white dog was sleeping in his yard. Four people, each armed with a blanket, went to the house. “Miraculously, he was still sleeping when they got there,” Ms. Pilarski said.

They sneaked up on him and threw the blankets over him to trap him. They put leashes on Odin, but he was too scared to walk to the car, so they picked him up and carried him. Odin weighed 80 pounds in June and 62 pounds when they got him to a veterinarian, where he stayed for five days, earlier this month. He had to be tranquilized so that he could be examined and treated.

“We counted over 300 engorged ticks on his body, most of them still alive,” Ms. Pilarski said, so his thick white coat had to be shaved. He also had mild skin infections.

Odin, who is now called “Henry” by his new foster family, is recovering physically, but volunteers expect it will be months before he loses his fear and learns how to enjoy the affection of people.

One of the Florida dogs is almost ready to be adopted, Ms. Pilarski said. This one was a puppy when he came into the rescue, so he has adapted more quickly than the others. Some of the dogs need regular doses of anti-anxiety medication, she said.

She does not have a tally on the veterinary bills of Odin and the other five. Donations can be mailed directly to VCA Castle Shannon Animal Hospital, 3610 Library Road, Pittsburgh 15234.

Linda Wilson Fuoco: or 412-263-3064 or on Facebook.