Dogtopia Regional Manager Embarks on 101-Mile Run to Raise $60,000 for the Training of Service Dogs for Veterans This Memorial Day Weekend

A Minnesota man is embarking on a monumental feat to make a positive impact on veterans over Memorial Day weekend. Starting at 7 a.m. on Sunday, May 26, Jordan Cerrillo, Regional Manager for Dogtopia in Eau Claire, WI, and Woodbury, MN, will run 101 miles from one daycare to the other to raise $60,000 for the Dogtopia Foundation.

Cerrillo’s long-distance run from Dogtopia of Eau Claire to Dogtopia of Woodbury is dedicated to raising funds to provide service dogs to veterans in need. Cerrillo’s goal of $60,000 will help support the training of 10 life-saving canines. Donations can be made here.

“The Dogtopia Foundation, Dogtopia daycares, and all Dogtopians across the country are proud to support Jordan on his ultra-marathon run, which will provide several veterans in need with a life-saving service dog,” said Neil Gill, CEO and President of Dogtopia. “Jordan’s determination, grit, compassion, and mission to make the world a brighter place embody everything we stand for as an organization, and we will be cheering him on the entire way.”

For the final 10 miles of his run, Cerrillo will be joined by retired Command Sergeant Major Gretchen Evans, a Dogtopia Foundation ambassador whose journey of resilience and recovery serves as the inspiration behind this ambitious fundraiser. After enduring life-threatening injuries in service in Afghanistan, Evans found solace and strength in the companionship of service dogs. Her celebrated story, recognized with the prestigious Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 2022 ESPYs, continues to inspire countless individuals to live with purpose and resilience.

“I am fortunate enough to have a pretty amazing ‘why’ that will fuel me for this run,” said Cerrillo. “Hearing Gretchen tell her story at the Dogtopia Conference in 2022 sparked an immense amount of pride to be part of a franchise that helped impact our veterans in an incredible way. I have many family members who have or are currently serving our country, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to be able to honor and give back to veterans that have sacrificed and done so much for us.” If you are interested in cheering for Jordan, he will depart from Dogtopia of Eau Claire in Wisconsin at approximately 7 a.m. on Sunday, May 26, and hopes to arrive at Dogtopia of Woodbury in Minnesota around 10 a.m. on Monday, May 27. To make a donation, please visit  https://fundraise.givesmart.com/vf/101Miles.

As a nonprofit organization, we rely on your generosity to further the Dogtopia Foundation’s noble cause. By connecting man’s best friend with the organizations we support, we will help returning veterans, students, and adults with autism reach their full potential. Click here to donate today. 100% of your donation is given directly to the organizations we support. 

Autism Awareness Month Highlight: Alex T. from Dogtopia of Rocklin

As part of our mission to enable dogs to positively change our world, one of the worthy causes we support is employment initiatives for adults with autism. The unemployment rate for adults with autism is twice as high as those with other disabilities, so the Dogtopia Foundation partnered with the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center to develop an Autism Employment Guide for Dogtopia franchisees. This guide provides coaching for Dogtopia team members on how to best create a positive, thriving work environment for both adults with ASD and neurotypical adults. 

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, we wanted to highlight a heartwarming success story from Dogtopia of Rocklin, California. Alex T., who is on the autism spectrum, joined the Dogtopia of Rocklin team as a Canine Coach in October 2023 and quickly made an impression with his infectious energy and charismatic personality. 

“We are very happy to have Alex on our team,” Diane Foos, owner of Dogtopia of Rocklin, said. “He is full of energy. He enjoys all his pups in the Park playroom, and it is obvious that the admiration is mutual. Alex is also a skilled conversation starter, and he loves to get all the staff engaged in lively conversations about different topics.” 

While Alex is clearly making an impact on the pups and people at Dogtopia of Rocklin, it appears Dogtopia is leaving its mark on Alex, too. 

“A year ago, I would not have known my son would be working in a place he not only loves but is accepted as a person on the autism spectrum,” Nicole T., Alex’s mother, said. “Alex absolutely adores working part-time at Dogtopia of Rocklin. Since he started his role, we’ve seen him grow in his confidence and happiness. He comes home with stories of seeing his ‘regulars,’ Max and Penelope, or welcoming a new dog to the mix.” 

Stories like Alex’s inspire us to continue our efforts in creating inclusive workplaces where everyone can thrive. We’re so happy to have you as part of the Dogtopia family, Alex! 
 

As a nonprofit organization, we rely on your generosity to further the Dogtopia Foundation’s noble cause. By connecting man’s best friend with the organizations we support, we will help returning veterans, students, and adults with autism reach their full potential. Click here to donate today. 100% of your donation is given directly to the organizations we support. 

Dogtopia Foundation Works to Accommodate Individuals with Autism in Dogtopia Daycares

April is National Autism Awareness Month. It is a time to recognize and celebrate the unique strengths and abilities of individuals on the spectrum.  

As a part of our Noble Cause, Dogtopia and the Dogtopia Foundation support employment programs for adults with autism by employing individuals with autism in daycares across North America.  

Our hope is through quality employment programs, adults with autism will experience a higher quality of life and increased self-determination through their success at work. When given the opportunity, individuals with ASD can bring a unique perspective and understanding to a work environment. One person’s unique strengths may be a game-changer for an employer or an entire organization.  

Additionally, the support and accommodations that help an individual with ASD be successful in the workplace are likely beneficial for all employees. Employees with autism also provide an employer with loyal employees who tend to have lower attrition rates and fewer absences.  

Diane Foos, Owner of the Dogtopia of Rocklin quoted below, states how much of an asset it has been to employ individuals on the spectrum.  

“Employing adults with autism has been a huge benefit for us. They bring so much to the table. They bring joy and they love what they do, but they also take their jobs very seriously. We have a lot of visual aids and technology in place to support them, but those additional supports have also benefitted our entire team.”  

We are committed to empowering individuals on the spectrum to learn, grow and build their careers at Dogtopia. 

How Impactful Are Service Dogs?

The Dogtopia Foundation was established to “enable dogs to positively change our world” and they are doing just that.  

Professional studies and evidence further validate what many people already know to be true:  animal companionship can help support beneficial physical and mental health outcomes including:  

Assistance with Physical Disabilities: Service dogs can be trained to assist veterans with mobility concerns, such as those who use wheelchairs, by opening doors, picking items up from the floor or another surface, and providing balance and stability. 

Improving Mental Health Conditions: Service dogs can provide support to veterans with mental health conditions such as PTSD, depression and anxiety. They can offer emotional support, interrupt panic attacks, provide a sense of security, and help veterans feel more connected to the world around them. 

Increased Socialization: Veterans with service dogs may find it easier to interact with other people as the dog can act as a social bridge and help them feel more comfortable in social situations. 

Regain a Sense of Independence: Service dogs can enable veterans to perform tasks that they may not be able to do on their own, therefore increasing their sense of independence. 

Companionship: Service dogs can offer companionship and unconditional love, which can be particularly beneficial for veterans who may feel isolated or alone.  

Join us in our Noble Cause and help sponsor a service dog for a veteran! Click here to get involved and donate today. 

Retired Army Command Sergeant Major Gretchen Evans Visits Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa

Last week, retired Command Sergeant Major and Dogtopia Foundation Ambassador Gretchen Evans visited the Warhawk Air Museum to speak about the positive impact service dogs have had in her life after returning from war.

Evans was 46 years old when she was injured while in combat and honorably discharged. Years later, she tells her story while discussing how a service dog truly saved her life. She spoke at the Warhawk Air Museum, again telling her story and raising awareness about service dogs.

Read the whole story from the Idaho Press here.

Dogtopia’s Noble Cause Provides Employment Opportunities for Adults with Autism

When husband-wife engineers Girish Rao and Radhika Dontaraju in Olathe, Kansas wanted to get into the pet industry, they never imagined the alignment Dogtopia could have with their own lives.

“We were looking to do something with a smarter approach to the service industry that was organized and standardized,” said Girish. “We took the steps and came to learn more about Dogtopia and that’s when we were introduced to the Dogtopia Foundation. That was a game changer for us.”

Dogtopia, North America’s leading and fastest-growing dog daycare franchise, offers its services to pet parents at more than 150 locations. The Dogtopia Foundation’s mission, known as its Noble Cause, of “enabling dogs to positively change our world” is brought to fruition through three worthy causes including providing adults with autism job opportunities in Dogtopia daycares.

Nationally, it is reported that approximately 90 percent of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are unemployed or underemployed. Over the next decade, it is reported an estimated 500,000 teens with autism will enter young adulthood and will be seeking employment.

For Girish and Radhika, this cause hit very close to home – their son, age 11, is on the autism spectrum.

“We knew our son may have trouble finding employment as an adult,” said Radhika. “We thought, ‘we can always put funds aside for him, but then what?’ When we heard about the work Dogtopia is doing to help lower the unemployment rate for adults with autism, it opened a future not only for us, but for our son, too.”

As Girish and Radhika set out on their journey, they visited a Dogtopia in Virginia and met several of the 10+ employees with autism working in the dog daycare. “It was amazing how well the team embraced these adults,” said Radhika. “It was really heartwarming.”

Now, in their own daycare, Dogtopia of Olathe, Kansas, which opened in November 2019, they have hired three full-time employees and one intern on the autism spectrum. For the internship, they partner with the Olathe School District to support their local career transition program that brings students with learning disabilities to Dogtopia to learn and grow.

“We asked ourselves – how do we enrich the lives of adults with autism?” said Radhika. “But frankly, it has actually empowered our team to be more open and embrace different kinds of people.”

The beauty of Dogtopia, they say, is that there is a role for everyone – it is about finding balance and understanding the perfect role and needs for each employee (those on the spectrum and not).

“This business is an intersection of all the good things for us,” said Girish. “When we found Dogtopia we were convinced in our brains. When we found the Dogtopia Foundation, we were convinced with our hearts.”

Through the work of the Dogtopia Foundation, Dogtopia is committed to empowering adults with autism to learn, grow and build their career.

Dogtopia Foundation Supports Purdue University Study Showing Benefits of Service Dogs for Returned Veterans

The findings of a newly published study led by the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine and partially funded by the Dogtopia Foundation provides further evidence of the benefits of service dogs for veterans with PTSD and helps identify more specifically which dogs and human-animal interactions lead to the best outcomes.

We’ve seen first-hand the benefits of service dogs for veterans with PTSD and are proud to support Dr. Maggie O’Haire’s ground-breaking research as we continue to fundraise and provide service dogs to returned veterans.

Learn more about the study by clicking here!

Gretchen Evans Receives Pat Tillman Award for Service at 2022 ESPYS

The Dogtopia Foundation would like to formally recognize and congratulate Command Sergeant Major Gretchen Evans on receiving the Pat Tillman Award for Service last night at the 2022 ESPYS. Gretchen is a two-time America’s VetDogs graduate, author, athlete, and an incredible ambassador for the Dogtopia Foundation.


Please join us in congratulating Gretchen Evans on this incredible award. Watch Gretchen’s powerful acceptance speech linked here!

Dogtopia Foundation Guides the Perlmans of Dogtopia of South Chandler Toward Milestone Revenue Numbers

Dogtopia Franchisees of the Year, Susan and Michael Perlman of Dogtopia of South Chandler, were recently profiled for their commitment to the Dogtopia Foundation. 

When the Perlmans started looking into business options beyond the corporate world, they knew they wanted to find a way to enjoy their work while becoming active members in their community. By combining their love of dogs and community, they found something that truly lit their fire and made them feel fulfilled once again.

By joining the Dogtopia family, they achieved what they were looking for along with so much more. Click here to read more about their successful journey and charitable efforts.

ESPN Will Present the Pat Tillman Award for Service to Gretchen Evans During The 2022 ESPYS Presented by Capital One on July 20 on ABC

Author, athlete, and retired Army Command Sergeant Major Gretchen Evans will be honored with the Pat Tillman Award for Service at The 2022 ESPYS, which will air live on Wednesday, July 20 at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on ABC. The award is given to an individual with a strong connection to sports who has served others in a way that echoes the legacy of the former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger.

Evans is a highly decorated veteran. After suffering a life-altering injury while serving in the Army, Evans founded Team UNBROKEN, an adaptive racing team of mostly veterans who have experienced life-altering injuries, illness, or traumas to compete in World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji. The non-stop, multi-day expedition competition sees teams traverse mountains, jungles and seas. The team’s creation grew out of Evans’ involvement with a number of veteran advocacy groups where she mentored and coached fellow veterans with stories that echo her own extraordinary path.

“Members of Team Unbroken have had numerous doors shut in their faces and have been told they could not participate in certain activities,” said Evans. “People saw us as broken due to our injuries, but we are not broken, we are UNBROKEN. We set out to be an example of inspiration and hope for the mixed-ability community. It is an honor to accept the Pat Tillman Award for Service, and I can only hope that this serves as an inspiration for others. We believe that disabilities do not define who you are or what you can accomplish. If members of our team can compete in the ‘World’s Toughest Race,’ other individuals with traumatic brain injuries, who are deaf, live with Type 1 diabetes, or face some other challenge of body, mind or spirit can overcome obstacles and achieve their own goals and dreams in their lives.”

After joining the Army in 1979 to help pay for her education, Evans quickly realized, as she says, military life was her calling. During her 27 years of service she worked her way up to Command Sergeant Major, the highest non-commissioned officer rank in the military. In 2006, she was deployed in Afghanistan when she was severely injured by a rocket blast, landing her in an Army hospital in Germany. When she awoke, Evans learned that she had suffered total hearing loss and a traumatic brain injury, which would end her military career. In the months to come, suffering from severe depression and PTSD, Evans struggled to find her footing, but then found a path forward through mentoring and competition.

Evans has since become a nationally known motivational speaker, and been inducted into the U.S. Army Women’s Hall of Fame and U.S. Veteran Hall of Fame – all on top of a military career that saw her win numerous medals and awards from the Bronze Star to a Presidential Unit Citation Medal, several Global War on Terrorism ribbons, and six Meritorious Service Medals.

“Gretchen Evans incurred life-changing injuries that ended her storied military career, but found strength to overcome through the help of No Barriers,” said Marie Tillman, board chair and co-founder of the Pat Tillman Foundation. “Since leaving the Army, Gretchen serves on the boards of several veterans’ and educational organizations, fundraises for MaineVet2Vet, shares her story through motivational speaking engagements through Women Veterans Speak, and authored Leading from the Front. Gretchen’s commitment to serving after service mirrors the mission of the Pat Tillman Foundation as well as Pat’s example of leadership and passion for serving others.”

The Pat Tillman Award for Service was established in 2014 to honor Tillman’s life and legacy. Evans will be presented with the award during The 2022 ESPYS in conjunction with the Pat Tillman Foundation, which unites and empowers veterans and military spouses as the next generation of leaders. Past honorees include U.S. Paralympic gold medal sled hockey player and Purple Heart recipient Josh Sweeney (2014), and former Notre Dame basketball player, Iraq war veteran and Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green (2015), U.S. Army Sgt. and Invictus Games gold medalist Elizabeth Marks (2016), and Purple Heart recipient and Invictus Games gold medalist Israel Del Toro (2017), Navy-Marine Commendation Medal recipient, Sergeant and founder of Team Rubicon Jake Wood (2018), former Marine and founder of the Kristie Ennis Foundation Kristie Ennis (2019), healthcare worker and boxing champion Kim Clavel (2020), and Manchester United football player Marcus Rashford (2021).

The ESPYS help to raise awareness and funds for the V Foundation for Cancer Research, the charity founded by ESPN and the late basketball coach Jim Valvano at the first ESPYS back in 1993. ESPN has helped raise more than $165 million for the V Foundation over the past 29 years. The ESPYS are co-produced by Full Day Productions.

ABOUT THE PAT TILLMAN FOUNDATION

In 2002, Pat Tillman proudly put his NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals on hold to serve his country. Family and friends established the Pat Tillman Foundation following Pat’s death in April 2004 while serving with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan. Created to honor Pat’s legacy of leadership and service, the Pat Tillman Foundation unites and empowers remarkable military veterans and spouses as the next generation of public and private sector leaders committed to service beyond self. For more information on the Pat Tillman Foundation and the impact of the Tillman Scholars, visit www.PatTillmanFoundation.org.

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Media Contacts:

Jay Jay Nesheim: [email protected]

Isabelle Lopez: [email protected]

Media Credentials:

To request credentials for The 2022 ESPYS, please apply here.