PITTSBURGH – Two local veterans had changed their lives 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 received special training to identify 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 long walks at a local playground.
In addition, Shar’Ron Harris of Homestead was paired with Blue, the service dog. Specially trained to detect chemical changes in the body, Blue has helped Shar’Ron – who suffers from epilepsy and previous brain surgery – avoid seizures. Blue’s fellowship has also helped Shar’Ron sleep better and prevent PTSD-related symptoms, including nightmares.
Highmark has sponsored three dogs as part of the Guardian Angel Program, which brings together highly skilled medical service dogs with veterans and others with physical and behavioral health problems to improve their independence and quality of life.
Participants will receive the dogs for free, with Highmark paying the $ 25,000 cost of training the dogs.