Trained dogs will perform at Mental Health Foundation event

Judith Burgess believes the companionship of a pet can be more than comforting -- it can be lifesaving.

Burgess, who works with the Mental Health Foundation, said these tough economic times can create particulary difficult situations for people with mental illnesses and other mental health problems. Often, it's their pets that prevent them from doing something drastic.

You will always see these stories -- the pet just kind of saved them, Burgess said. "They know that the pet depends on them. It provides them with a purpose for living."

Through her work with the Mental Health Foundation, Burgess oversees the Paws for a Cause at the Plaza event, which highlights the bond between people and their pets. Now in its third year, Paws for a Cause will be held Friday and Saturday, April 3 and 4, on the South Concourse of Empire State Plaza.

While the event's message is a serious one, there will be plenty of family fun, including shows by the Purina Incredible Dog Team. Paws for a Cause will also feature vendors, presentations, information on adopting animals and a wall where people can write a paragraph or two about what their pets mean to them. This is the inaugural year for the wall.

"We're always looking for stories," Burgess said. "I think we'll get a lot of interesting feedback."

While the wall may be new, the Incredible Dog Team is making a return trip to the area, having proved a hit at previous Paws for a Cause events. The dogs on the team can do flips, catch Frisbees and do an assortment of other tricks.

"People love them," Burgess said. "They are really incredible."

The dog team will put on three shows, and it attracts so many people that by the third show, "you can't walk," Burgess said.

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