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: jayjay.nesheim@espn.com

Isabelle Lopez: isabelle.m.lopez@espn.com

Media Credentials:

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

Dogtopia Foundation Renews Commitment to Employees on the Spectrum in Celebration of Autism Awareness Month

Foundation impact grows as the leading dog daycare franchise adds more locations

PHOENIX, April 12, 2022 /PRNewswire/ — While Dogtopia, the nation’s leading dog daycare, boarding and spa franchise is helping our furry family members, the Dogtopia Foundation is helping the communities in which they’re located. In celebration of Autism Awareness Month in April, the Dogtopia Foundation is renewing its commitment to supporting employees on the autism spectrum, as well as its other key pillars of sponsoring service dogs for veterans and fostering youth literacy. Last month at Dogtopia’s annual conference, franchisees raised more than $100,000 to support the Foundation, bringing the total amount raised for the charity well over $1.2 million since 2018.

Dogtopia logo (PRNewsfoto/Dogtopia)
Dogtopia logo (PRNewsfoto/Dogtopia)

“It’s exciting to see the momentum behind the Foundation and even more exciting to consider what the future may hold,” said Dogtopia Foundation Executive Director Liz Meyers. “Our network is growing rapidly and we’re attracting franchisees who are drawn to the brand because of our Noble Cause and the Foundation’s mission ‘to enable dogs to positively change our world’ through our three pillars.”- ADVERTISEMENT -https://s.yimg.com/rq/darla/4-10-1/html/r-sf-flx.html

Since 2018, the Foundation has played a huge role in helping Dogtopia locations nationwide employ adults on the autism spectrum. This program began because there are not many career options for the nearly 100,000 teenagers with autism who enter adulthood each year. The Foundation offers an Autism Employment Guide and hosts webinars to provide franchisees with tools and resources they need to create a work environment where individuals with autism can thrive.

“As a leader in building a positive and beneficial culture, I have found that our employees on the spectrum directly reflect those values,” said Andy Knights, Dogtopia of South Chandler General Manager. “They are honest, loyal and hard-working and foster a positive environment for their teammates and our pet parents, while performing the essential duties both safely and efficiently. They are an integral part of our team.”

In addition to providing employment for adults on the autism spectrum, Dogtopia franchisees have collectively raised money to help sponsor more than 135 service dogs for veterans. This initiative is complemented by a partnership with retired Command Sergeant Major Gretchen Evans, who will be traveling the country to help Dogtopia franchisees raise awareness and funds for the “Dogs Save Lives” cause within their local communities. The Dogtopia Foundation also supports the work of Dr. Maggie O’Haire with Purdue University as she conducts research to uncover data-driven evidence of the benefits of service dogs for veterans with PTSD.

Finally, the Foundation supports youth literacy programs such as SitStayRead, a Chicago-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit that prepares volunteers and their dogs to serve as a non-judgmental and supportive audience for at-risk elementary school students and help them grow more confident and fluent in their reading.

For more information about the Dogtopia Foundation and how you can support its efforts, visit www.dogtopiafoundation.org. If you are interested in learning more about the Dogtopia franchise in general, visit www.dogtopia.com.

About Dogtopia
Founded in 2002, Dogtopia is an early pioneer and innovator in the pet services industry, offering an experience focused on wellness, quality of care, safety and transparency in the market. The ultimate destination for improving the physical and mental well-being of dogs and pet parents, Dogtopia helps our furry friends live long, healthy, and happy lives with services that address canine wellness in a holistic manner. Pet parents have the assurance of leaving their beloved furry family members in the hands of trained professionals in an environment created with the safety of dogs in mind, including an open-play environment with comfortable rubber flooring to ease joints and paws, top quality meals and snacks, as well as webcams for pet parents to check in on their pups. For more information, visit www.dogtopia.com.

About Dogtopia Foundation
The Dogtopia Foundation enables dogs to positively change our world through funding programs focused around service dogs for veterans, youth literacy programs and employment initiatives for adults with autism. The Foundation’s aim is to identify needs, fill gaps and integrate knowledge for continuous improvement in the three areas of focus. By connecting dogs with the organizations the Foundation supports, the Foundation will help returning veterans, children and adults with autism reach their full potential. To learn more, visit www.dogtopiafoundation.org

Media Contact: Brittany Karlin, Fishman Public Relations, bkarlin@fishmanpr.com or 847-945-1300

Enabling Dogs to Positively Change Our World With Jerry Guinn

Enabling Dogs to Positively Change Our World with Jerry Guinn

Pet parents of Dogtopia dogs mean the world to us. In August of 2021, Dogtopia of Waco lost one of their most beloved pet parents when Jerry Guinn passed from Covid-19 Pneumonia, but he left behind a legacy that will have a lasting impact for years to come.

The Dogtopia Foundation had the wonderful opportunity to speak with Jo, his wife of 49 years, about Jerry’s life and involvement in the Air Force and his love and support for military and service dogs.

Jerry seemed to stumble into his K-9 passion. Jo told the Dogtopia Foundation, “When he was in Air Force training, one of his friends said, ‘Hey, let’s go to K-9 training!’ and so he did.”

In 1970, Jerry was stationed at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where he went through basic training, security police school, patrol dog school, and combat training.

According to Jo, Lackland Airforce Base was, at the time, the main training location for Air Force soldiers and K-9s. Today, it’s the only training installation that trains K-9s.

It quickly became evident Jerry had a calling for K-9s which consumed his training and eventually his whole world. He adored the K-9s he spent time with during his nine months at Lackland Air Force Base where he trained one during patrol dog school.  Jerry was assigned his first Vietnam K9 at Cam Ranh Bay & acquired a second K9 when one of his Air Force friends completed his time in Vietnam and needed someone to take over the handling of his dog. Jerry happily obliged.

Like many military service members, Jerry frequently visited the USO where his path would eventually cross with volunteer Jo A Korndorffer.

Jo recalled the day she and Jerry met:

“I had a friend who just loved to dance, so she convinced me to go to the USO. I was a very shy person and she taught me how to dance. We’d go to the dances at the USO on Saturdays and Sundays every week. One time when we went, Jerry was there and that was how we met. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, he was there to meet another girl!”

Jerry and Jo were an inseparable match and corresponded through letters while Jerry was in Vietnam serving first as security police at Phu Cat Air Base, and then Air Base Ground Defense at Cam Ranh Bay. They married in 1972 when Jerry returned to the United States and was stationed at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas. After an honorable discharge in 1974, Jerry began a long and successful career in the food industry and focused on supporting his growing family which included a son and countless dogs and cats. 

In retirement, Jerry and Jo actively supported veterans as members of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 2148 & Auxiliary. They also adopted furry family member Tippy, a Yorki-Poo who has more energy than they could have ever expected.

According to Jo, Tippy needed a place to run and play with other dogs who shared her energy level.

Dogtopia of Waco welcomed Tippy, Jerry, and Jo into their family with open arms. As Jerry and Jo began to get to know the team, they would regularly show up with treats and other goodies as a thank you for taking such good care of their pup.

“I thought it wasn’t fair to only tip the spa people, so I started bringing little goodie bags for everyone,” said Jo. “I figured at least they’d be good to her.”

Jerry and Jo were beloved by the entire team at Dogtopia of Waco, not just because of the kindness they extended to the staff, but also because of their support for the Dogtopia Foundation’s “service dog for veterans” pillar.

According to Dogtopia of Waco owner Amy Nichols, “Jerry and Jo were among the biggest supporters of the Dogtopia Foundation and made frequent donations to support our efforts to help sponsor a service dog.” 

In the summer of 2021, Jo and Jerry both fell ill to Covid-19. Jo recovered, but unfortunately her beloved Jerry lost his battle with Covid-19 Pneumonia in August of 2021 at age 70.  When Jerry passed, Jo spent time with her family deciding what to do on his behalf.

“When my kids came over to write the obituary for Jerry, I said we don’t need flowers because they’re gone in no time. We were going through all the different organizations that Jerry and I volunteer for – all having to do with Veterans. They all get so much money. I had been donating a little bit for the service dogs for veterans at Dogtopia and I said you know what, that takes care of Jerry’s career and love of animals. He started with the K-9s, and this is a good way to end in memory of him. That’s who I want to have his donation,” said Jo.

The Dogtopia Foundation was the grateful recipient of donations made by numerous friends and family members who adored Jerry. The local VFW Auxiliary, where Jo volunteers as Treasurer, also made a generous donation in honor of Jerry’s life. Because of this outpouring of support, Dogtopia of Waco and the Dogtopia Foundation had the funds to help sponsor a service dog for a returned veteran.

Jerry’s dedication to the training, well-being, and support of dogs in all settings is admirable and the Dogtopia Foundation is thankful for him, his service and the legacy he leaves behind.

To learn more about the life of Jerry Guinn, read his obituary here.

The Dogtopia Foundation would like to extend the warmest thank you to Jo Guinn for taking the time to speak about her husband. Additionally, the Dogtopia Foundation would like to thank the Dogtopia of Waco daycare located in Waco, TX, for providing an incredible experience to Tippy, Jo, and Jerry.

Interested in learning more about the Dogtopia Foundation? Click here to learn more.


Empowering Adults on the Spectrum at Dogtopia

The Dogtopia Foundation focuses on three key initiatives: Service Dogs for Returned Veterans, Children’s Education, and Employing Adults on the Spectrum. In honor of April being Autism Awareness Month, we wanted to showcase three Dogtopians dedicated to employing adults on the spectrum in their own daycares.

Three team members from different Dogtopia daycares are quoted below, stating how much of an asset it has been to employ individuals on the spectrum.

Art Prediger, Owner, Dogtopia of Dulles

“We have three employees on the spectrum, and they are huge contributors to the team. They understand the job and how to work through decisions while managing dog behaviors. They are reliable and often eager to pick up extra shifts. What I’ve really come to appreciate is how they each have a special knack for lifting the staff whenever it’s most needed. Everyone on our team loves them.”

Diane Foos, Owner, Dogtopia of Rocklin

“Employing someone on the autism spectrum is easier than you think! Our location has worked with 10 adults on the spectrum so far through internships and paid employment. Every single one of them is highly intelligent with a lot to offer, and the benefits of having them on our team are countless!”

Andy Knights, General Manager, Dogtopia of South Chandler

“As a leader in building a positive and beneficial culture, I have found that the employees on the spectrum directly reflect those values. They are honest, loyal, and hard working.  Our ASD employees create a positive environment for our clients and their teammates, while performing the essential duties both safely and efficiently.  They are an integral part of our team. “

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

Dogtopia Daycare Donation Efforts Bring U.S. Marine Veteran and Canine Companion Together

The Dogtopia Foundation partnered with Next Step Service Dogs to bring together returned veteran Anthony Torres and his field golden retriever, Tillman.

Torres served as a U.S. Marine for six years. Following his years of service, he returned home and connected with Next Step Service Dogs, an organization focused on providing trained service dogs to veterans, Gina Esoldi, Program Director with Next Step Service Dogs, united Torres with Tillman and guided him through the training process.

“We meet on a weekly basis,” said Esoldi. “Once they do their formal application and enter the Next Step program, we meet two to three times a week. As soon as they leave that program, they leave to their own living situation. We meet a couple times a week until they get possession of their dog, pass their access test, and then certify.”

Many of Next Step’s dogs are career change dogs. This means they have gone through training  to be a guide dog but were unable to meet the stringent standards necessary for this level of support. 

“A lot of dogs that Next Step receives are guide dogs for the blind, career change dogs that are not suitable to serve a person with little to no vision,” said Esoldi. “However, they’re wonderful, wonderful dogs. They come to us with their basic obedience and then we task train them.”

On some occasions, as was the case with Tillman, Next Step Service Dogs receives a puppy enrolling in training to live alongside of a returned veteran. When Torres met Tillman, he knew he met the dog that was going to change his world. Although Esoldi was hesitant about Tillman’s career path with Next Step Service Dogs, Torres was up for the challenge of training a puppy.

“They give us the basic tools to reinforce their obedience,” said Torres about Next Step Service Dogs. Torres felt confident training Tillman because he knew he had a strong support system behind him.

After graduating from training, Torres and Tillman officially began life together.

“It’s night and day,” said Torres of his life with Tillman. “Being at the lowest of lows, to meeting those dogs and working at that program and then meeting Tilly; it gives you a new sense of purpose and something to focus on other than yourself.”

Tillman has  impacted Torres’s life in numerous ways. He now feels confident and plays a more active role in his community. Tillman keeps him going.

“He’s that number one spot in my life and I need to make sure he’s taken care of,” said Torres.

The Dogtopia Foundation wants to thank Next Step Service Dogs for their partnership in providing trained service dogs to returned veterans. It is through partners like Next Steps that we are enabling dogs to positively change our world.