University of South Florida

USF Health to host Tampa DogFest to help raise funds for canine companions and service dogs

A dog can be much more than simply the family pet.  For many people, their dog is a necessity for daily living – from navigating to retrieving items to sensing that blood sugar levels are dropping.

Photo by Eric Younghans.

Michele Laine, nurse practitioner director for the USF Health Diabetes Home, with Hershey, a Labrador/Husky mix specially trained to detect fluctuations in blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes. Photo by Eric Younghans.

Called service dogs and canine companions, these unique animals take roles as people’s eyes, hands, legs and more.

To help raise funds and awareness for these dogs, USF Health is hosting the Tampa DogFest 2015 Walk ‘n Roll Nov. 8 to benefit the Canine Companions for Independence program (more details below).

dog with keys RSS

Photo courtesy of

The USF Health event will include a walk, silent auction, bake sale, dog photography, a kids’ activity table and, of course, visiting service dogs.

There are several ways to help. Donations can be made directly to the Tampa effort by visiting the Canine Companions website. You can also narrow your donation on that page to a USF Health team that will be walking Nov. 8 at the USF Health event, or start your own team and begin collecting sponsorships and donations. You can also provide items and services that can be included in the gift baskets that will be auctioned off for funds.

Photo courtesy of USF Health Shimberg Health Sciences Library.

Gracie provides some de-stressing pet therapy for USF Health students at the Shimberg Health Sciences Library. Photo courtesy of the Shimberg Library.

You can also donate at the event, which is where you can meet some of the many folks benefiting from these service dogs, as well as those who help raise and train canine companions.

There are challenges people with disabilities face every day and canine companion assistance dogs are highly trained to help children, adults and veterans live more independently, said Karen Burdash, associate executive director of the USF Physicians Group and associate dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

“Vets have served us, so it’s the least we can do for them,” Burdash said. “Wounded vets who might not have the ability to lead a full life can turn to a canine companion for help.”

dog with JAdams RSS

Photo courtesy of

Canine Companions for Independence provides highly trained assistance dogs to children and adults with disabilities, including veterans with physical disabilities. There is no charge to the recipient for the dog but training and on-going follow-up services ends up costing at least $50,000 per dog. Training a dog to be a service dog takes months. Following the intensive training, dogs are matched with a recipient, who has also undergone evaluation. Then, when a match is made, both dog and recipient undergo six weeks of training together.

The USF Health DogFest Walk ‘n Roll is aiming to raise at least that $50,000 to help a local veteran get matched to a dog, Burdash said.

“One of our main goals for this DogFest walk is to be able to say that USF Health was able to help raise enough to sponsor a dog to help someone,” she said.

As a longtime proponent for rescuing and training therapy dogs, Burdash said she can tell pretty quickly whether a dog has the temperament to be a therapy or service dog.

Karen Burdash with pet therapy dog Eric.

Karen Burdash with pet therapy dog Eric. Photo courtesy of Karen Burdash.

“Some dogs just show an affinity for helping,” she said. “It’s truly rewarding to me. The look on people’s faces when there is a good match is wonderful. And when a dog is really enhancing the quality of life for someone, that’s magical. That’s making someone’s life better.”



Tampa DogFest 2015 Walk ‘n Roll

Sunday, Nov. 8, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

At USF Health, east side of CMS building on the corner of Bruce B. Downs and USF Holly

The free event is open to the community. Donate or register a team at

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

Staff dog Snitch (note his ID card) also offers pet therapy to USF Health students at the Shimberg Library. Photo by Eric Younghans.

Staff dog Snitch (note his ID card) also offers pet therapy to USF Health students at the Shimberg Library. Photo by Eric Younghans.


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