PITTSBURGH — Two local veterans had their lives changed last fall when they were paired with furry service partners to help them with their medical needs.
Dan Smith, a Vietnam veteran from Butler, was paired with a service dog named Charlie. Charlie was specially trained to detect changes in Dan’s blood sugar levels. Since getting Charlie, Dan has become more active and has lost 15 pounds.
He likes to take Charlie to sporting events, car shows, and for long walks at a local playground.
Additionally, Shar’Ron Harris from Homestead was paired with Blue the service dog. Blue was specially trained to detect chemical changes in the body and has helped Shar’Ron—who has epilepsy and prior brain surgery—avoid taking seizures. Blue’s companionship has also helped Shar’Ron sleep better and avoid PTSD-related symptoms, including nightmares.
Highmark has sponsored three dogs through the Guardian Angel program, which pairs highly-trained medical service dogs with veterans and other individuals with physical and behavioral health challenges to improve their independence and quality of life.
Participants receive the dogs free of charge, with Highmark covering the $25,000 cost to train the dogs.