Bethel Park Veterans Day program focuses on support pets

Apparently, dogs can go a step beyond serving as man’s best friend.

During what seemed like a typical evening in 2011, U.S. Air Force veteran Ron Papik unknowingly suffered a severe drop in his blood sugar.

“He went out to play cards. He came home. He went to bed,” his wife, Mary, said. “A little after 2 o’clock in the morning, I was awakened to the sound of what sounded like a banshee from a horror movie.”

The racket came from a particularly perceptive pet the Papiks were fostering.

“I couldn’t understand why he wasn’t telling her to be quiet. When I went to check on him, he was in a diabetic coma,” Mary, who served in the Army, recalled. “Had it not been for that dog, my husband would have been dead.”

A volunteer with Animal Friends in Ohio Township, Mary Papik was a guest speaker at a Veterans Day luncheon presented by the Bethel Park Chamber of Commerce. She shared information about a new program that provides veterans with free custom-matched pets, waiving the requested adoption fee.

“When veterans come back from serving, they miss having their comrades around them,” she said. “Many of you in this room know and have been there.”

An all-too-common reaction is for individuals to go the other direction and isolate themselves inside their homes.

“Animal Friends has been fortunate enough to work with several of those veterans,” Papik said, “to provide them with a reason to go outside.”

Having dogs to take for walks can provide sufficient incentive, she explained, but cats and even rabbits are available to provide companionship.

“We have placed all three very successfully with veterans, and the reports back, they send chills up your spine,” she said.

As for the dog that provided the alert about her husband’s unresponsiveness, she was not specially trained.

“She was a foster dog in search of a home,” Papik said. “She became a member of our household the next day.”

To support Animal Friends for Veterans, as the adoption program is called, the Bethel Park Chamber of Commerce is promoting sponsorships. Through members’ efforts, seven matches have been made so far, according to executive director Connie Ruhl.

Joining Papik as a speaker for the Veterans Day event, held at the Bethel Park Community Center, was state Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Peters. She thanked Americans who served in the military for “their sacrifice and their service, all in the name of freedom.”

“But it shouldn’t just be today,” Mihalek, a Navy veteran, said. “It should be every day, any chance you get to express your gratitude.”

In that regard, she acknowledged former longtime Bethel Park resident Angeline Defibaugh, who turned “100 years young” this month.

“Angel is one of the most accomplished women I have had the privilege to meet,” Mihalek wrote on her Facebook page.

Defibaugh volunteered for the Army Nurse Corps in April 1944 and was shipped to France shortly after the D-Day invasion of Normandy. While there, she was responsible for the care and treatment of wounded and ailing U.S. servicemen and Nazi prisoners, and she helped train and orient corpsmen while supervising five general nurses.

Mihalek also gave recognition to state Sen. Devlin Robinson, R-Bridgeville, a Marine Corps veteran, and to her relatives who inspired her by serving their country.

For more information about Animal Friends for Veterans, 412-847-7030, email or visit

Harry Funk is a Tribune-Review news editor. You can contact Harry at

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