A paw-fect cause

Pet Valu is hosting eighth annual Patriotic Pets Campaign with proceeds benefiting the U.S. War Dogs Association

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

Dog days of summer: Now through Sept. 11, at all Pet Valu stores, customers can purchase a $5 American flag bandana, a paper paw print for any amount and (at select locations) grooming kits, with proceeds benefiting the U.S. War Dogs Association. Source: U.S. War Dogs Association

Every single day, members of the military put their lives on the line, trading in the safety of their homes for hostile, dangerous environments. What many don’t realize is that it’s not only two-legged men and women risking everything for our country — there are furry, four-legged soldiers right by their side.

War dogs are pivotal members of the armed forces, but too often they don’t get the respect they deserve. Many are abandoned overseas due to the high cost of flying them back to the states, while the ones who make it are shuffled from home to home because of unaffordable medical expenses.

To ensure these all-too-common occurrences become non-issues, Pet Valu, which has locations in Fairless Hills and Richboro, has once again partnered with the U.S. War Dogs Association for the eighth annual Patriotic Pets Campaign.

Now through Sept. 11 at all Pet Valu stores, customers can purchase a $5 American flag bandana, a paper paw print for any amount and (at select locations) grooming kits, with proceeds benefiting the U.S. War Dogs Association.

Founded in 2000 by former Vietnam Marine scout dog handler Ron Aiello, the Burlington, New Jersey-based nonprofit’s initial mission was simple — to support military dog teams by sending care packages. Reflecting on his own time overseas, Aiello explained how he rarely received support from people back home other than his family, something he always wished for him and his doggie companion.

Eight years ago, Aiello was contacted by corporate members of Pet Valu, who said they loved what he was doing, wanted to be a part of it, and would follow up soon with more details. Aiello didn’t think much of it, refusing to get his hopes up too high. But two weeks later, Pet Valu was back on the line, outlining details of its proposed Patriotic Pets Campaign. Aiello and the U.S. War Dogs Association would receive $4 of every $5 bandana purchase.

That first year, the campaign was an unprecedented success, raising $25,000. Ever since, it has continued to grow exponentially, with last year’s proceeds totaling $400,000. The goal this year is to surpass that and reach a record-breaking $425,000. According to Pet Valu marketing manager Ally Homa, a total of $1.3 million has been raised since the campaign’s inception in 2010.

“Everyone really gets behind this fundraiser,” she said, explaining how it’s Pet Valu’s most popular charitable initiative every year.

Thanks to this massive annual influx of money, Aiello has been able to expand the U.S. War Dogs Association to include a number of new programs for retired military dogs in addition to the care packages. A largely recognized one is the free prescription drug program, which was recently extended to include federal agency dogs from the FBI and TSA.

Most of these dogs are older with significant health issues, including PTSD, that require expensive medications. Oftentimes, this can be a hardship for their new owners. Aiello recalled one woman who had to choose between putting food on the table for her family or paying for her pet’s medicine. The program prevents owners from having to make these tough decisions by covering their dog’s health needs. Currently, there are 740 enrolled.

Additional programs include the funding of wheelchairs for dogs who need a little extra help getting around; Rainbow Bridge Assistance, which pays for the euthanasia of service dogs; and Mission Canine Rescue, which handles the nearly $2,000 fee of transporting dogs from international bases to the United States. Many times, soldiers wish to adopt their companion but simply can’t afford it. Now, the U.S. War Dogs Association is able to make that reunion possible.

“Without Pet Valu, we wouldn’t be doing this at all,” Aiello said. “They’ve been a godsend to us.”

The total amount of funds raised during the 2018 Patriotic Pets Campaign will be revealed in October during Pet Valu’s annual management conference in Orlando, Florida. At that time, Aiello will receive a ceremonious blow up check, while Pet Valu employees have the chance to meet some of the retired service dogs their company’s efforts helped.

For those interested in participating in the campaign, Pet Valu locations in Bucks County include the following: 535 S. Oxford Valley Road in Fairless Hills; 2369–2371 Pasqualone Blvd. in Bensalem; 1034 2nd St. Pike in Richboro; 211 Easton Road in Warrington; 2814 S. Eagle Road in Newtown; 464 N. Main St. in Doylestown; and 6542-D Lower York Road in New Hope.

For more information on the U.S. War Dogs Association, visit uswardogs.org. For more on Pet Valu, visit us.petvalu.com. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com