First annual "Strolling For Service Dogs" helps local veterans in need

YARDLEY, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- "Literally when Cooper came into my life, he saved my life," said Michael Howard.

Howard joined the United States Marine Corps in 2004 at the age of 18. But it wasn't until 2012, a year after he completed his service, that he started noticing a problem.

"Once you get out, you're just kind of left to your own devices," he said. "You lose your structures, then your camaraderie goes. Slowly but surely, you start to feel lost, and you almost feel as if it'll be better if you're gone."

But now, Howard says he was wrong to feel that way. And he credits his four-legged best friend for becoming the man he is today.

"I was able to find Alpha Bravo Canine," he said. "So, not only did I get the benefit of a service dog, but I also have another family."

Alpha Bravo Canine is a Philadelphia-based non-profit that trains and donates service dogs to United States veterans who are suffering from medical or psychological issues related to their time in the service.

"It's upwards of 20-25,000 dollars for each service dog," said puppy raising coordinator Tracy Ruepp. "We donate them to veterans for free. So, it's a lot of time and money."

Alpha Bravo Canine hosts fundraisers throughout the year to make the money needed to support their mission. And today, they hosted the first "Strolling For Service Dogs" walk.

The community event, which featured sponsors and food vendors, can be traced back to the good will of one local 14-year-old, Nicholas Christopher.

"I helped organize this event because I care deeply about veterans," he said. "And you're never too young to help out the community."

Christopher found a passion for helping others during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. He started decorating lawns for kids celebrating birthdays or graduations while stuck at home. Thus, he became known as the "Birthday Lawn Bandit."

Now that lawn signs are not as popular, Christopher was looking for other ways to help the community. He and his mom connected with Alpha Bravo Canine to make today's event possible.

Dozens of dog walkers met at the 9/11 Garden of Reflection in Yardley to show their support. Michael Howard hopes it's another step forward in ending veteran suicide.

"After you get a dog, I can't even explain the changes that will happen," he said. "You will feel like there's no way that you could ever become a statistic."

To learn more about Alpha Bravo Canine, visit their website.

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Sgt. Michael Howard has topped 240,000 followers on TikTok for his raw and emotional videos designed to bring fellow heroes out of the darkness.

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