Service dog program in Sylmar works to raise money during COVID-19

Guide Dogs of America is expanding to not only train dogs to service the blind, but to also help people with Autism and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, COVID-19 is causing some challenges for the organization.
SYLMAR, LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- In a time of crisis service dogs can be even more important for those who need them.

At Guide Dogs of America, canines are trained to help those who are blind, and this year the organization partnered with Tender Loving Canines to also give people with Autism and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) access to service dogs.

However, COVID-19 is causing some challenges for the organization.

"Right now fundraising is one of the things that normally we run about 100 plus events a year throughout the country and Canada, and this year we got hit pretty hard. We probably only had about 2 events," said Russell Gittlen, director at Guide Dogs of America in Sylmar.

The trained animals are given to those who qualify for free, so officials said fundraising and donations are important. Especially because training on average is $60,000 per dog.

Despite setbacks due to the pandemic, the group is continuing to train the dogs as well as volunteers and the soon to be owners of the dog because they said they know how much of an impact they have on people's lives.

Luis Pingarron was in the Navy and suffers from PTSD, but when he was paired with his service dog, Shield, life opened up for him.

"[PTSD] kept me from enjoying my normal life. It kept me from going outside, it kept me from wanting to be out in public going to concerts, do normal things like going to supermarkets and things like that had become massive undertakings and endeavors, not just for myself, but also for my wife or whoever else happened to be nearby that could help me out," said Pingarron.

With the added stress of the coronavirus pandemic he says he's happy that he has Shield by his side because she saved his life.

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