Celebrities, vendors, demonstrators and volunteers collected at the amphitheater in on Saturday for a day-long event which benefited two exceptional causes and promoted education about a third exceptional cause. Three causes at one event may seem like a lot of causes, but it’s nothing compared to the number of paws that were there!
Officer Andrew Volchko, of the Bethel Park Police Department, was largely responsible for organizing the event. Over the past few months, to benefit his friend and colleague, Clairton Police Officer James Kuzak, who was .
Volchko said that he wanted to organize a benefit for Kuzak that somehow related to Kuzak’s love for dogs. Figuring out how to do that, Volchko quipped, was no easy task.
The idea for the event came to Volchko, who was injured in the line of duty in 2000, after a conversation he had with his massage therapist about the great strides her autistic son was making with the help of an autistic services dog.
“After talking with (my therapist), I wanted to spread the word,” Volchko said. “I knew this was the idea I was looking for to do an event for (Kuzak).”
“I decided to organize an education day about dogs, to show people that dogs can be more than friends and that they can be trained to help people in a lot of different ways.”
With the help of his daughter, Shelby, a senior at Chartiers Valley High School, Volchko conducted extensive research to discover a wide variety of helpful dogs: therapy dogs, helper dogs, mold dogs, bed bug dogs, search dogs and rescue dogs, among others.
Volchko pulled together a list of demonstrators, speakers and vendors for the event, including canine specialists from various police departments across the region, as well as volunteers and vendors from animal groups and shelters, such as Hello Bully and Animal Friends.
Volchko also got a well-known celebrity canine activist to appear and speak at the event—Shorty Rossi, from Animal Planet’s hit show “Pit Boss.”
On his show, and in his personal life, Rossi advocates responsible pet ownership and dispelling negative myths about pit bulls.
About the event, Rossi told us: “It’s a good thing that dogs can help raise money for humans, since humans are usually the ones raising money for dogs.”
In addition to benefiting the Officer James Kuzak Benefit Fund, proceeds from the event also benefitted the Western Pennsylvania Police Benevolent Foundation (WPPBF), a new non-profit organization dedicated to providing assistance to injured police officers and their families.
WPPBF Technical Secretary and retired City of Duquesne Officer Daniel Burns explained part of the impetus behind the founding of WPPBF: “After (Kuzak) was shot, there were so many people that wanted to help him out, but nobody knew how. There was nothing already in place to assist and support injured municipal officers. So we created (the WPPBF) to do just that.”
Burns went on to say that the assistance WPPBF provides involves more than merely “cutting a check,” and can include things such as referrals to relevant services, such as therapists or attorneys; emotional support from other police families who have suffered through injuries; assistance in organizing fundraisers and tips for dealing with the press; and, help with every-day things like transportation and grocery shopping.
“Regardless of whether (an officer) is full-time, part-time, union or (fraternal order of police), we’ll help him out no matter what,” said Burns.
According to WPPBF Fundraising Treasurer and Baldwin Borough Police Officer Tim Kreger, WPPBF supports not only officers injured on the job but also officers with other serious ailments or disabilities, like cancer.
This is the first event held to benefit the WPPBF, which was legally formed in July.
For more information on the WPPBF, visit its website at www.wppbf.org.