Veterans Find Guardian Angels

November 17, 2020

A relatively simple question crossed Stacy Juchno’s mind shortly after she became executive sponsor of PNC’s Military employee business resource group: what type of activity might better engage the group?

Around the same time, Juchno, the leader of PNC’s internal audit department, heard about Guardian Angels, a non-profit organization that pairs service dogs with veterans who have disabilities.

“What if I could get the group to sponsor one service dog, and we could follow the journey of the veteran and the dog?” Juchno recalled wondering at the time.

Out of the idea, a much larger initiative to support veterans sprouted. In 2016, Guardian Angels established and PNC sponsored the Mutt Strut, a fundraiser that started as a charity walk for people and pets in Pittsburgh’s Frick Park. Two other markets — Erie, Pa., and Dayton, Ohio — later added events, and in 2020, the Mutt Strut went virtual amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the evolution, the commitment to honoring veterans’ service and helping those in need held firm.

In five years, PNC raised and donated enough money to fund 57 service dogs from Guardian Angels — the cost for each dog ranges from $20,000 to $25,000. Guardian Angels does not pass any part of those costs on to the dogs’ recipients.

“Our employees found a better way to not only engage our Military EBRG with Guardian Angels and the amazing service dogs, but they helped us engage so many veterans and veteran advocates in the community,” Juchno said. “Before the Mutt Strut started, I thought if we create awareness about veteran suicide, we will have been successful. I dreamed of one dog for one veteran. My expectations continue to be exceeded.”

A Solution that Saves Veterans’ Lives

Carol Borden, founder and CEO of Guardian Angels, still remembers the weather forecast for the inaugural Mutt Strut. Clouds hovered overhead at dawn. Rain appeared likely.

“All of a sudden, when the sun came out, it was the most beautiful day, and it stayed that way through the entire event, so that was sort of a sign of things to come,” said Borden, whose organization operates out of Williston, Fla. “If I had to dream of an ideal sponsor, it would be PNC.”

The first Mutt Strut raised almost $200,000. In 2017, the total grew to about $300,000. In 2019, the events in Pittsburgh, Erie and Dayton combined to raise $511,000. Relying solely on a virtual format during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Mutt Strut brought in more than $250,000.

Expansion of the events to new areas attracted more PNC employees to the cause, and the idea of veteran advocacy spread among even those who never served and lacked family ties to the military.

“It all came together for me after I heard some of the veterans’ stories and saw the dogs in action,” said Jeff Szumigale, a PNC Wealth Management market director in Erie. “That’s when the proverbial light bulb went off, and I thought, ‘My goodness, I think I’ve got a good friend who could use this.’

“You don’t have to be a veteran to help or to care. Almost everybody knows somebody who was in the military, and chances are one of those folks is experiencing challenges.”

Guardian Angels named PNC its Sponsor of the Year for 2020. PNC remains proud to work with Guardian Angels, which maintains a remarkable track record with veterans. Tragically, during the past decade-plus, an average of 17 veterans died by suicide each day, according to a 2019 report from the Department of Veteran Affairs. Yet none of the more than 350 veterans paired with Guardian Angels service dogs since the organization’s founding in 2010 are among those statistics.

“This is a solution that works, and not enough people know about it,” said Chris Phillips, a Marine veteran who works for PNC as a military affairs liaison and leads efforts to support Guardian Angels’ execution of the Mutt Strut events. “You never realize whose lives you’re changing until somebody reaches out.”

Leading by Example

Phillips hopes success of the virtual version of the Mutt Strut means PNC and Guardian Angels’ message will begin to reach veterans online rather than relying solely on attendance at in-person events.

“Veterans don’t serve by ZIP code,” she said. “I think this year, we really tried to show that we’re serving all of our veterans from every community out there.”

While fundraising is critical to its mission, initiating conversations about disabilities with veterans is just as high a priority for Guardian Angels and its sponsors.

“When I have an opportunity to talk to veterans directly,” Borden said, “I encourage them to not only understand what these dogs can do for them — some things that not even a caregiver is able to do — I also make them realize they’re leaders, and they’re role models to other veterans. It’s not just for those with PTSD, either. Whether their disability is related to mental health or mobility, veterans need to experience the impact a service dog can have on their own lives and then share that, and they do.”

Army veteran John Kelly received his Guardian Angels service dog, Ranger, in 2016 and soon became a passionate proponent for the cause.

“For a long time, I was without what I would consider, in like a Samurai sense, my honor,” Kelly said. “I was walking around as empty as a shell. And you guys helped bring me back from that.

“With the strategic vision of the Mutt Strut and Guardian Angels supported by PNC, you’re saving lives every day.”

  • Most Recent News

    Oscar The Blind Dog

    November 25, 2020

    In the weeks leading up to a heated presidential election, another close race played out that had dog lovers across the country faithfully voting online every 24 hours for their favorite furry friends. For four weeks, from Sept. 10 to Oct. 9, nearly 1 million votes were cast in Garden & Gun magazine’s Good Dog […]

    Read more

    Genius Dog Challenge

    November 25, 2020

    Six dogs are competing to become the world’s smartest dog – a title reserved for the pooch that learns words the fastest. Shany Dror is a driving force behind the Genius Dog Challenge, which is live streamed on Facebook and YouTube every week until December 16, when the winner will be announced. The canine challenge […]

    Read more

    Finding Homes For Dogs

    November 25, 2020

    Adoptable Animal Rescue Force gives back to the community by finding the right homes for dogs. We’ve been a Teller County nonprofit, no-kill rescue since 1999. Social networking has allowed us to expand our services in recent years to include dogs coming in from high kill shelters in New Mexico and Texas. There are times […]

    Read more

    Service Dog Retiring

    November 25, 2020

    Talking to police or giving testimony at a courthouse, can be a scary experience for many. Since 2014, service dogs have been allowed in the courtroom to provide emotional support for those in need. For Emery Baert, having Madison with her made a huge difference. “If she wasn’t there, to this day, I wouldn’t know […]

    Read more

    A Shelter Dog's Life

    November 25, 2020

    The sound of paws and claws precedes Isabella’s entrance. She bursts out of the Worcester Animal Rescue League’s front door, dragging Sara McClure, WARL’s dog program coordinator, behind her. McClure has two hands on Izzy’s bright red leash as the pit bull mix comes barreling into the parking lot. McClure motions for me to take […]

    Read more

    Veterans Court Therapy Dog

    November 25, 2020

    Howard County Superior Court II Judge Brant Parry stood in his courtroom last week and looked around like he had lost something. “You want to see her?” he asked, still looking around the mostly empty room. A few moments later, a brown fluff of fur came bounding through an open back door, prompting instant smiles […]

    Read more

    Painted Paws Helps Veterans

    November 25, 2020

    When Tyler Warrick came home from serving in the Iraq war, he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. “My little dog, Moose, gave me a purpose to get up every day and deal with life,” he says. That was the genesis of Painted Paws for Veterans, a nonprofit operating in Peyton that rescues dogs from […]

    Read more

    CK Police Dog

    November 25, 2020

    A police dog with the Chatham-Kent Police Service and his handler are being praised for their work over the past seven years, which has resulted in dozens of arrests and the seizure of thousands of dollars worth of illicit drugs. K9 Officer Arry and Constable Rick Bertok received an official citation from the Chatham-Kent Police […]

    Read more

    Three-legged Therapy Dog

    November 25, 2020

    We here at NEWS CENTER Maine met Lucky at the start of 2019. Army veteran Christy Gardner was training him to be a therapy dog, and she brought him by the news station, while he was training with her older service dog, Moxie. Lucky was born a little different, with a right paw that didn’t […]

    Read more

    Dog Therapy

    November 25, 2020

    Holiday House Pet Resort and Training Center donated $1,020 to the nonprofit therapy dog organization Angel On A Leash. The funds were raised during the pet facility’s annual Halloween fundraiser taking portraits of dogs in costumes. Proceeds were earmarked for AOAL’s day-to-day expenses to support the work by volunteers with their therapy dogs — called champion teams […]

    Read more

    More Recent News