German shepherd Blade licks veteran Michael Clark s face in this undated photo. Clark was paired with his service dog by Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc. in October 2017 after suffering from a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. PNC Financial Services is launching a Community Mutt Strut Oct. 19, 2019, at Eastwood MetroPark in Dayton to raise funds for underwriting the cost of 10 service dogs. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

How you can help get a service dog for veterans

PNC to launch event ‘unleashing the power to heal’ on Oct. 19

An effort to stem the tide of an estimated 22 U.S. veterans committing suicide daily will take place at Eastwood MetroPark in Dayton on Oct. 19 when PNC Financial Services Group Inc. hosts its inaugural Community Mutt Strut to raise cash for service dogs for veterans.

Organizers say the community festival will be fun-filled, with food, prizes, goodie bags, music, a dog parade, best-dressed canine contests, pet vendors, adoption centers and veteran friendly service organizations. A breakfast to announce the effort was held Tuesday at the Holiday Inn in Fairborn.

All money raised will go to Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc., a Florida-based organization that has rescued and trained more than 200 service dogs for placement with veterans and others in need. Guardian Angels trains dogs for a variety of conditions, from mitigation of post-traumatic stress disorder and/or traumatic brain injury symptoms to seizure or insulin alerting to mobility issues and more.

“Service dogs are actually very highly skilled animals that are trained with very specific tasks to mitigate the challenges of someone’s disability,” said Carol Borden, founder and CEO of Guardian Angels. “We only pair dogs with people that have long-term disabilities … It doesn’t cure what their disability is, but it’s a tremendous tool in making them better — helping them regain their dignity and independence. That is incredibly important.”

Such highly trained animals are not cheap. Each dog costs $22,000 to train, but the cost to the recipient is zero. For almost 10 years the organization has relied on donations and sponsorships for its funding.

PNC has launched Mutt Struts in Pittsburgh and Erie, Pa. Organizers said hosting a Mutt Strut in Dayton is a good fit due to the number of area veterans and retirees and the presence of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Army veteran’s life changed when he got his ‘catalyst’

Michael Clark’s 23-year Army career took him to many places during multiple deployments — Bosnia, Iraq, Africa and Afghanistan.

After multiple injuries, including shrapnel wounds, a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, it also took him to dark places. His marriage failed, he wasn’t the father he wished to be; he was miserable and frustrated, finding it difficult to integrate back into society when he retired in 2015.

That all changed when PNC made it possible for a female German shepherd named Blade to come into his life in October 2017.

“It felt like I had tapped into a part of my life that I had long given up and I craved life again,” Clark said.

Now a PNC program manager in technology and innovation in Sewickley, Pa., Clark said he has never been happier, spending quality time with his children, Emily and Noah.

“In many ways I feel like I am living the life I have always been waiting for,” he said. “I’ve been able to move forward, and I have found my catalyst. Blade has brought me so much joy and purpose.”

Creating awareness, saving lives

“Hopefully we are going to make a strong showing here in our community to help our veterans,” said event co-chair Patricia Stover.

Eid Dibbini, a PNC employee and company commander of an Army Reserve unit at Fort Campbell, Ky., is the other co-chair.

“This is about awareness and saving lives,” said David Melin, PNC regional president for the Dayton market. “What a positive impact an animal can have on somebody’s emotional state. But this is different from that — it’s about veterans getting their lives back.”

The goal for the event is to raise funds to underwrite placement of 10 service dogs, he said.

“That’s 10 lives we can help impact,” he said.

The PNC Foundation has already pledged $22,000 for one dog.

For more information on registration, sponsorships, vendors or volunteering, go to www.muttstrut4servicedogs.com.

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