It’s been estimated that as many as 22 U.S. veterans die by suicide every day. For those paired with a Guardian Angels Medical Service Dog, however, the rate so far stands at zero.
Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs is a nonprofit based in Williston, Florida, that raises, trains and donates medical service dogs to veterans, first responders and civilians with permanent visible and invisible disabilities. Hundreds of veterans are on a waiting list to be paired, and the vast majority can’t afford the roughly $25,000 it costs for a highly specialized service dog to help with PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, mobility issues and more.
Organizations like PNC help by sponsoring dogs, making it possible for more veterans to receive the life-altering support of a service dog. PNC has also been part of the family-friendly Community Mutt Strut fundraiser since its inception in 2016. The Pittsburgh-based event includes dog costume contests, pet- and veteran-related vendors and auction items, and boasts more than $1.5M raised and 66 dogs sponsored as a direct impact.
A medical service dog can often be the exact accommodation an individual with a disability needs to thrive in a corporate setting. Mike Clark, a business analytics manager on PNC’s Audit team, continued to struggle with PTSD and a post-traumatic brain injury for years after returning from his U.S. Army service to civilian life. But he got the support he needed from PNC, who worked with him and Guardian Angels to provide “Super Service Dog” Blade and completely transform Clark’s world – at work and at home.
Now Clark and PNC General Auditor Stacy Juchno talk about Blade’s impact over the years, how a recipient begins the process of transitioning an aging service dog into retirement, and whether there might be another service dog in Clark’s future.
Michael, PNC Employee: Yeah, so I joined the military right out of high school, and I spent a year and a half in the Persian Gulf, that was the Bosnia conflict. I decided I wanted to go to college. Went to Penn State University, I joined the ROTC program. In my senior year, 9/11 happened. I didn't have that typical opportunity of a college student to go do an internship. My internship at that time was Iraq. I finally hung up my uniform in 2015 and that's when I decided that I was going to pursue a career in corporate America at that point. I had really bad post-traumatic stress, I had a traumatic brain injury that still hadn't healed. I was scared, I didn't really know if I wanted to disclose whether or not I had these disabilities at the time.But PNC made it easy to do it.
Stacy, General Auditor: I knew at the time,before I had actually met Mike, that there was a veteran at PNC that was in need of a service dog and I think Mike connected with Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs. He was one of the first folks that I know through anything we've done that he quickly got Blade and was prepared with Blade and now has a service dog.
And when I first met Mike ,he was quiet, reserved, but present and when Mike joined Audit, he started to over the years start to work out of the quiet, reserved person and be a little bit more outgoing, taking on additional responsibilities, and I think with Blade with him over time helped open him up.
And now today, Mike is at every activity, every event, leading discussions, and I just think that I've seen this transformation over the last several years with Mike and it's just absolutely phenomenal. He's absolutely the light that walks in the room and brightens things up.
Michael: I mean, Blade's going to be 12 years old in January, and I'm, as dogs age, they lose their eye sight starts to diminish, her ability to really kind of sit and stay for long periods of time have gone from her being able to sit there with me through an eight-hour day to four hours and she's like nudging me, telling me it's time for us to go home. And she's been taking care of me all these years. Now it's time for me to shift gears and take care of her. And so she tells me she's ready to go home, then we're going to take her home and Guardian Angels, they've really helped me develop techniques on how to get her to transition to retirement. And it's something, things as simple as like talking to her and telling her, hey Blade, I'm going to work, you're going to stay home. 4 Be a good girl. I'll see you in a few hours. Just constantly communicating that to her every day when I leave to come into the office is helping her kind of transition into this retirement mentality. PNC sponsored Blade from the beginning and just the fact that they've offered to get me another service dog when I need it, if I need it, really makes me, I just think that's an amazing thing. At this point in my life, I'm not sure I'm ready for another service dog. I think I'm still&madash;I have this bond with Blade that I'm just not there yet. It's really time for us to shift into retirement mode. We're both ready.