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Animal Friends reaches out to veterans

Jason Cato
| Saturday, May 28, 2016, 1:36 p.m.
Macy takes a break in the shade as she waits for the patriotic pups promenade with her owner, Linda Michling of Turtle Creek, at the Animal Friends' 'Bark in the Park' fundraiser at North Park on Saturday, May 28, 2016. Animal Friends used the occasion to announce two new programs for veterans.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Macy takes a break in the shade as she waits for the patriotic pups promenade with her owner, Linda Michling of Turtle Creek, at the Animal Friends' 'Bark in the Park' fundraiser at North Park on Saturday, May 28, 2016. Animal Friends used the occasion to announce two new programs for veterans.
Joyce Donovan, right, 51, of Bethel Park feeds her Great Dane Cody some water ice as he cools down with fellow pup Cannon, left, at Animal Friends' 'Bark in the Park' fundraiser at North Park on Saturday, May 28, 2016. Animal Friends used the occasion to announce two new programs for veterans.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Joyce Donovan, right, 51, of Bethel Park feeds her Great Dane Cody some water ice as he cools down with fellow pup Cannon, left, at Animal Friends' 'Bark in the Park' fundraiser at North Park on Saturday, May 28, 2016. Animal Friends used the occasion to announce two new programs for veterans.
Felix, back, spends some time in one of several little pools available for dogs at Animal Friends' 'Bark in the Park' fundraiser at North Park on Saturday, May 28, 2016. Hanging out with him is Otis. Animal Friends used the fundraiser as a chance to announce two new programs for veterans.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Felix, back, spends some time in one of several little pools available for dogs at Animal Friends' 'Bark in the Park' fundraiser at North Park on Saturday, May 28, 2016. Hanging out with him is Otis. Animal Friends used the fundraiser as a chance to announce two new programs for veterans.

Animal Friends started 73 years ago as an effort to find homes for pets stranded on Pittsburgh streets when service members shipped out overseas to fight in World War II.

On Saturday, the animal adoption advocacy group announced “Animal Friends for Veterans,” two new programs that reach back to its beginnings.

“We are very proud to be reinvigorating our commitment to vets,” Joanne Moore, chief programs officer, said at the annual Bark in the Park fundraiser at North Park.

“Pets for Vets Pittsburgh” will pair trained companion pets — dogs, cats and rabbits — with veterans who have post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries.

It costs about $1,500 to properly train and care for each pet to be used in the program, Moore said.

Another program, “Pets Supporting Vets,” offers free pet adoptions for veterans and possibly helps with other needs, such as veterinary care.

Animal Friends board member and retired Marine Bob Fragasso said the number of veterans who die by suicide and the number of animals killed at shelters underscore the need for Animal Friends for Veterans.

“This program can make a difference in those statistics,” he said.

Arthur Krysinski, a Navy veteran of the Korean War, has volunteered with Animal Friends for more than a decade.

Where he once patrolled off the coast of North Korea aboard the destroyer USS Picking, he now serves by walking dogs and doing whatever else he can to help Animal Friends.

“The other veterans out there need something like this, and they can't get it at the VA,” said Krysinski, 83, of Ross. “A lot of them just don't have anyone.”

Animal Friends started in 1943 and operated out of the basement of the William Penn Hotel, Downtown, where a group of dedicated women worked to find homes for soldiers' pets. The group later moved to the Strip District before setting in Ohio Township in 2006.

Each year, Animal Friends finds homes for about 2,200 animals. In addition to adoptions, the group offers pet-training classes, medical care and runs a pet food bank, among other services.

Though it made a point to launch the programs on Memorial Day weekend, Animal Friends has always supported veterans — even if not always so publicly, Moore said.

“We've done it very quietly. But this is a great time to reinvigorate all of that and get us back to our roots,” she said.

Jason Cato is a Tribune-Reviewstaff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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