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Multi-million dollar facility being built locally to train dogs for veterans

PITTSBURGH — Spangle, Rooney, Doc and Jud are all medical service dogs helping veterans in our area. 

"I might be anxious, I might have a breakdown, but with her, she doesn't let me get that far she just wants me to be okay," said Dustin Schneider of Pittsburgh.  

Doc, a German Shepherd, was recently paired with Army Veteran Alexis Taggert, who has PTSD. 

"Being in public and in crowds and stuff like that has been hard," said Taggert. "But with her by my side and making space around me in between other people approached me, and stuff has been very helpful."

The dogs given to these veterans and first responders are from Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, a Florida non-profit that raises, trains, and matches the dogs.

Guardian Angels Founder Carol Borden started the group ten years ago. She stated, "The dog is not a cure. The dog will never fix their disability, but because they can now get their dignity and self-esteem and independence back." 

In the last decade, the group has paired 350 dogs with more than 50 veterans in our region. The high demand from veterans and support from businesses and donors led the non-profit to expand to Pittsburgh.

Guardian Angels Regional Developmental Director Jack Wagner said there's tremendous support here, "Because of the overwhelming support that Guardian Angels has received in western Pennsylvania, in terms of sponsorships of dogs veterans receiving dogs."

Their first campus will be located in Robinson Township next to the Montour Trail. Borden said all the life stages would happen at this new "state of the art campus that will have a ton of volunteer opportunities." The new location, which is not built yet, is expected to cost $15 million and will house 80 dogs. The dogs will need trainers, meaning new local jobs. It's a much needed economic boost to our area during the pandemic. 

"I know Pittsburgh is hurting after the COVID virus," said Borden. "So we're very anxious to help them put folks back to work both from the construction angle. When we very first break ground and start putting all the buildings in place in the infrastructure to where we will be hiring more people to work directly there."

The pandemic has delayed fundraising and the groundbreaking, but while waiting to break ground, the organization will focus on getting dogs ready to help those who need them most. 

"We have to figure out how to caravan more dogs out to more states," said Borden. "We're currently planning another caravan, probably two caravans to Pittsburgh."

If you would like to donate to the Pittsburgh Campus, you can do that HERE.

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