Mutt Strut in Frick Park raises funds for veterans’ canine companions |
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Megan Guza
Ringer, a 2-year-old service dog, lays at the feet of her owner David Tylosky, at the 1st Annual Community Mutt Strut at Frick Park in Point Breeze on Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016. The dog walk was held to raise money to sponsor service dogs for Pittsburgh area veterans through Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs. The event included activities such as a dog parade and dog costume contest.

Ringer rarely strays farther than the spot just in front of David Tylosky’s feet, gazing up at him from time to time and popping to her feet if someone gets too close.

“It’s easier with her,” said Tylosky, 43, reaching down to scratch the German shepherd’s ears. “I’m going more places. I’m doing more things.”

Tylosky and Ringer, his service dog from the nonprofit Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, have been together since June 23, when they underwent an intensive, two-week training course in Florida.

On Saturday, he and the 2-year-old dog were helping to represent the nonprofit at a Frick Park fundraiser held by Life Changing Service Dogs for Veterans, a Pittsburgh-based subsidiary of Guardian Angels.

Tylosky, an Air Force and Marine Corps veteran, retired from the military in September 2014 after more than 20 years of service.

Those 20 years had taken a toll.

“Anxiety, anger, depression — I used to be really short-fused at times,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll get angry at work, and when I reach a certain point, (Ringer) will bug me until she gets my attention. Then she won’t leave me alone until she feels I calmed down.”

Saturday’s “Mutt Strut” mission was twofold, organizer Andrea Carelli said: To raise awareness regarding veteran suicide rates — the Department of Veterans Affairs estimates 22 vets take their lives each day — and to raise money to provide dogs to local veterans.

When veterans are provided a service dog, the suicide rate drops to zero, she said. The dogs are free for veterans but cost $22,000 to raise and train.

By noon, the Mutt Strut had raised more than $220,000, Carelli said.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “That’s 10 veterans we can give dogs, and it can save their life.”

For Larry Debar, Shilo, his German shepherd service dog, gave him his life back.

Debar, 57, started his Army career in Grenada and served in Desert Storm.

“Until you’ve been there and bullets are flying, you have no idea what it’s like,” he said.

Debar, of Homer City, and Shilo went through the two-week training at the same time as Tylosky and Ringer and four other veterans and their new service dogs.

“I would go out, but I wouldn’t talk to people,” Debar said. “I was anxious. (Shilo) shields me from some of that anxiety.”

He said for years he never considered a service dog because, “I figured there were people out there a lot worse than me.”

With encouragement from his wife, Holly, he applied and was ultimately paired with Shilo. She said the change in her husband has been palpable.

“I got my husband back,” she said. “And our kids got their dad back.”

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8519 or [email protected].

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