Unsung Heroes is a limited series celebrating nominated Beaver County changemakers who receive little recognition.
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When Samantha Cermak first met Paul Anthony, she was in the throes of severe mental illness and declining physical health.
“I met Paul during an extremely difficult time in my life,” she said. “And I had recently lost my dog of over 12 years. I needed help.”
Cermak’s case manager introduced her to Anthony, who “immediately set out to find me the perfect service dog, which he did,” she said.
Through Michael’s Mission, her adoption and training fees were covered. Her dog, Leia, “literally saved my life,” said Cermak, of Aliquippa.
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“Unfortunately, when I became too ill, he helped me find a safe, loving home for Leia,” she said. “It was such a tough time and I still struggle with missing Leia, but Paul has helped ease that pain. Not only did he arrange for therapy dogs to come visit me on a regular basis, but he is there to support me through my ups and downs.”
Anthony, a veteran certified dog trainer and founder of Champion Canine in Harmony Township, launched Michael’s Mission to honor his son, Michael, who died from an opioid overdose in 2016. The organization is dedicated to providing affordable service and therapy dogs to those with specialized needs.
“My son passed away from an overdose, and now I help people going through that,” said Anthony. “I train service dogs, therapy dogs. We provided a service dog to a state trooper who was shot and paralyzed. I was involved with dogs when I was little; my mom passed away when I was 8 years old, and I just gravitated toward dogs from there. I enjoy working with dogs and helping others.”
A former local police officer, Anthony was among the first to arrive at the deadly 1994 Flight 427 plane crash in Hopewell Township. What he witnessed that day, he said, gave rise to post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder.
During his recovery in the late 1990s, he hoped to afford others a second chance. Anthony’s now active in a program that pairs incarcerated people at SCI-Forest, a state-run Pennsylvania prison, with dogs to train in basic obedience and socialization.
He’s driven by his faith and the support of loved ones, he said.
“Because of my belief in God and the help of my family and friends, we are able to help the less fortunate and those in need,” he said.
He also offers dog training for families at Champion Canine; training classes range from puppy to advanced and focus on teaching people to actively train their dogs and develop a closer bond.
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“Paul goes above and beyond,” said Cermak. “He’s definitely my hero, and a hero to so many others.”