After years of anticipation, an organization that matches veterans and military service dogs is taking the next step toward bringing a new facility to our area. It will be the first of its kind in the United States. Over the last 13 years, Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs has donated about 400 dogs to veterans in nearly 30 states and has had remarkable success in preventing veteran suicides. Ben Keen is one of those veterans.
Keen spent eight and a half years in the army on active duty. He says he struggled transitioning back into civilian life.
“As a veteran, I saw myself as being called upon to help,” said Keen. “Not asking for help. Cause that’s exactly what we’re called to do. To go to these countries and help them without a care about ourselves.”
Bolt has been helping Keen for four years now by alerting him to medical emergencies, his wife’s pregnancies and overcoming suicidal thoughts.
“Thankfully, I haven’t had those thoughts in a long time, but it’s one of those things where you have to stay in check and that’s where things having Bolt check in on me and within this organization, we become family.”
It’s estimated that 22 veterans die by suicide every day. Since Guardian Angels Service Dogs started in 2010, none of the veterans in the program have died by suicide. That’s more than 400 lives potentially saved by these service dogs.
“Our dogs do wonders,” said Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Regional Development Director Jack Wagner. “They’re miracle workers.”
On the day before Veterans Day, Guardian Angels broke ground on its future home. The 102-acre property, located about 15 minutes from Pittsburgh International Airport, will include training facilities, housing and a veterinary hospital.
“If you look out,” said Borden. “You see the way the hills are. It kind of hugs you. And the ambiance is very important to the people who come to us. We want them to feel safe and comfortable. And we believe this property has accomplished that. I look out, and I see the beauty and I see how many more lives that we’re going to save here.”
CEO and Founder Carol Borden says this new facility will double their capacity to help.
“We’re bringing jobs to the community as well as helping a very vulnerable portion of the community which are the disabled and of course our veterans,” said Borden.
“It’s the first campus outside of Florida to rescue, raise and train medical service dogs for veterans with serious visible and invisible injuries of war,” said Wagner.
“With the increased number of veterans and first responders and others with disabilities,” said Keen. “That means we can help twice as many people, hopefully twice as fast. Because the delay is the dog. You can’t speed up training. You can’t speed up growth. To have this facility is amazing and to put it here in Pittsburgh where we have some of the largest veteran population in the country is just huge.”
This new facility will also include the Borden Institute of Higher Learning.
“We’re very excited that we have developed a lot of programs, and they will all be found on this campus,” said Borden. “We were the first to develop a college accredited VA approved apprenticeship program in Florida. We took it to the next level, and we actually started an institute for higher learning, which is in progress behind the scenes, and what we will be doing is teaching all animal-related courses as we get situated. And we also opened our own non-profit veterinary hospital in Florida and that is designed to take care of our teams and our dogs in training.”
It’s expected to take at least two years to build this campus but anticipate having it partially operational by the end of next year. Guardian Angels Service Dogs is constantly raising money. It costs about $25,000 to train each dog and the new facility is estimated to cost about $30 million. Borden says the cost went up because of inflation, and they only have about a third of the funding for the project.
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