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North Hills

State honors dog therapy program that helps domestic violence victims

| Thursday, May 25, 2017, 8:21 p.m.
Cheri Herschell and Ari.
Cheri Herschell and Ari.
Denise and Leon Strimel
Denise and Leon Strimel

A program that uses dogs to help domestic violence victims from northern and western Allegheny County and an employee of the nonprofit that runs it were honored recently by the state.

The Crisis Center North's Victim Assistance Canine Program and Leon Strimel received 2017 Governor's Victim Service Pathfinder awards from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The awards were presented May 9 at a conference in Hershey.

The award is the most prestigious Pennsylvania gives to a victim service professional or program, the PCCD website said.

The Victim Assistance Canine Program earned the program award. The program, which the center has renamed Paws for Empowerment, provides counseling and courtroom accompaniment services.

It has one dog, nine-year-old Penny, and another being trained, Ari, 10 months, whose jobs are to calm victims. Both were at the awards ceremony.

Strimel, the center's lead prevention educator, was presented with the prevention, education and outreach award. He was one of five individuals honored.

A retired guidance counselor, Strimel, 65, of Canonsburg said he does about 400 presentations a year, reaching thousands of kids.

Crisis Center North executive director Grace Coleman said she has heard students share stories of how Strimel has made an impact on their lives and school culture.

“Leon has the unique ability to truly inspire the students he works with,” she said.

Strimel said the magnitude of the award hit him when he entered the room.

“(It) was completely packed,” he said.

Coleman said the awards are a tremendous honor for her organization, which started in 1978 as the North Hills Women's Center.

“Both the prevention education program and our canine program have, in many ways, rallied the community around the issue of domestic violence,” she said.

Canine program committee member Michael Brayack said the center was incredibly honored to receive two Pathfinder awards in one year.

Karen Kadilak is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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