What happens when an 89-year-old prisoner of war from World War II is put together with a service dog? The answer is changing the lives of scores of wounded American veterans returning home from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Irwin Stovroff, founder of Vets Helping Heroes, said he witnessed first-hand how service dogs can save the lives of veterans. He explained he was motivated to start a foundation for the purpose since government funds were largely unavailable.
“What motivated me was the fact that I realized these young heroes were coming back and were going to have one tough life,” Stovroff told WND’s Aaron Klein in a radio interview. “They had so many handicaps, being blind, losing arms, having seizures, post traumatic stress disorder, and our government had no funds for dogs.”
Vet Helping Heroes provides the funds needed to ensure that a specialized training process for each dog is tailored to respond to the specific needs of each injured soldier.
In some cases, the dogs learn to block off personal space for PTSD-suffering vets. In others, they are guides for soldiers who lost their sight in battle. Some dogs are even trained to signal an impending onset of seizure by barking, offering their owners a crucial second or two to prepare.
Stovroff says the training costs range from $10,000 up to $60,000 per dog, a sum well out of reach for most returning soldiers. Each dog can take up to two years to train. The training is a complex and extensive process that includes many stages.
“These young veterans coming back, this is the highest rate of suicide we have ever had in the military. … Anytime I have been able to work with a veteran and see that he gets a dog, it’s an entire change in his life,” he said.
Stovroff gave the example of one soldier, retired Master Sgt. U.S. Marine Corps Mark Gwathmey.
“He had seizures, eight, 10, 12 a day. He was suicidal. His wife was scared to death to keep anything in the house if anything would happen. His kids were upset.”
Stovroff said after working with a service dog that Gwathmey “is now is happy man, his wife is happy, his family is happy, they’re together.”
“He has an opportunity to go on and continue in life.”
Gwathmey’s wife, Carolyn, said, “I credit Larry (the service dog) with not only giving Mark back his life but with saving Mark’s life.”
Lt. Col. Kathy Champion shares that her “life has been changed immensely” by a guide dog named Angel.
“Angel is more than a member of my family,” Champion said. “She is my partner for life.”
Stovroff fought the Nazis in World War II. He fell into enemy hands when the B-24 Liberator on which he served as bombardier was shot down on his 35th and supposedly last mission.
After a year in Nazi POW camps, he returned home and became a successful businessman in Youngstown, Ohio. He now lives in Florida.
Listen to Klein’s WABC radio interview: