Nonprofit building campus to train service dogs for veterans | Helping the Helpers
‘It’s a complex project, but it will be a magnificent project in the right location,’ former Auditor General Jack Wagner, who’s helping the group, said
Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc., which is based in Williston, Fla., is hoping to break ground in March on its new campus that will be located on this 102-acre property along Beagle Club Road in Robinson Township (Herald-Standard Photo).
By Mike Jones
A nonprofit organization based in Florida that specializes in training service dogs to help military veterans is preparing to build a new $20 million campus in Washington County.
Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs Inc. is hoping to break ground in March on its new campus that will be located on a 102-acre property along Beagle Club Road in Robinson Township.
“Isn’t it great that we’re on a road called Beagle Club?” said Jack Wagner, who is the organization’s part-time regional development director helping Guardian Angels to get its foothold in the Pittsburgh area. “It will double the number of dogs that can be provided to veterans on an annual basis.”
The organization was founded six year ago in Williston, Fla. and has a campus there to train the dogs and then pair them with veterans. The new campus near Pittsburgh will offer veterans in the northeast and Midwest a closer trip that will expand the number of dogs available to those in need.
“We’re on a journey to build the first campus outside of Florida,” Wagner said. “A single campus in Florida is not sufficient for the demand of the dogs. Keep in mind, the dogs are provided to veterans with serious visible and invisible injuries. Western Pennsylvania has a high concentration of veterans.”
Wagner, a Vietnam veteran while in the Marine Corps and Democratic politician who served in numerous government positions over the years, is well-known around this area, making him the perfect liaison for the organization.
The non-profit has several corporate sponsors and received small donations to help with the project, which is nearly halfway to its $20 million goal. It has trained a total of 400 dogs – which takes more than two years and costs about $25,000 each – and has helped veterans in 30 states over the past six years, including Western Pennsylvania, Wagner said.
“The support here has been fantastic, and geographically it would be the campus that serves the northeastern part of the country, and to some extent, the Midwestern part of the country,” Wagner said.
The campus will have multiple training facilities for the dogs, along with a dormitory for veterans to spend two weeks getting to know their dog before they go home. The property, which is about four miles northwest of McDonald, is near the Southern Beltway, making it a short drive to Pittsburgh International Airport.
“You have to come to the campus for the last two weeks of training and be part of the training process. Washington County, simply, is a great location,” Wagner said. “Close and accessible to the airport for people to fly in and get their dog.”
The non-profit purchased the land in February 2019, according to county property tax records. It’s not known when construction will be completed and the campus will be up and running, but Wagner said it will be worthwhile addition to the area that will help many veterans who need the comfort of a service animal.
“It’s a complex project, but it will be a magnificent project in the right location,” Wagner said.
Mike Jones is a reporter for the Herald-Standard of Uniontown. Helping the Helpers is a joint effort of the Herald-Standard and the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Readers may email him at [email protected].
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