Author/Photographer: Tracy Libby; Published by i-5 Press
When scribe received an advance copy of the new book, Reporting For Duty by award-winning author and photographer Tracy Libby, she firmly told me to keep my paws off it. No problem. I love to hear about the brave men and women who serve the cause of freedom all over the world, but that is scribe’s tale to describe.
That is until I spied the cover of the book. The subhead reads True Stories of Wounded Veterans and Their Service Dogs. Dogs? That’s my world, thank you. Yours truly waited for just the right moment, then gently took the book to my special quiet space. We all know that dogs serve the military in many capacities, working in dangerous and impossibly scary places. They are dog heroes. What I didn’t realize was just how much assistance trained service dogs provide veterans returning home with physical injuries and other issues that are not visible—things like Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), to mention just two.
Reporting For Duty tells the story of 15 veterans from wars since (and including WWII) and the service dogs who provide specialized services acting as guide dogs, assistance dogs, PTSD dogs, and emotional support dogs. Did you know that a 2014 study by the Rand Corporation found that over 540,000 veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan deal with PTSD and/or depression? Over 260,000 veterans returned home with TBI. These numbers don’t even include veterans from Vietnam, Korea, or WWII. There is obviously a huge need for these specially trained dogs. Training just one dog can take over two years and costs between $10,000-$60,000 depending on the needed skill set.
Kent Phyfe’s Iris ©Kent Phyfe
I especially enjoyed the story of Kent Phyfe and his service dog, Iris—a lab rescued from a Georgia animal shelter. Mr. Phyfe had joined the military just a week after he graduated from high school in 1981. He served 15 years in the military, as a Ranger with the 82 Airborne Division, then with the 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne) and the 10th SFG (A). A routine medical exam showed he had a damaged aortic valve. The damaged valve was replaced with a new titanium model, but then Mr. Phyfe was medically retired. Over the next five years, he developed life-threatening cardiac issues that can cause communication from the brain to the heart to short-circuit. These short-circuits cause him to pass out or go into full arrhythmia. Completely dependent on others, Mr. Phyfe was isolated and essentially a captive in his own home.
Kent Phyfe & Iris
His doctor suggested a service dog—enter Iris, the rescued lab trained and donated to Mr. Phyfe by the New York non-profit, America’s VetDogs (AVD). Iris’s job was to wake Mr. Phyfe when she detected irregular heart beats. Iris licked Mr. Phyfe to wake him up. If he passed out or went into full arrhythmia, Iris knew to hit a button directly connected to 911, then hold him in place until help arrived. She’d also bark to help EMTs find his location and lick his face trying to wake him up. She even knew to back away so the medics can work, then was trained to ride in the ambulance to the hospital. When Iris detected the slightest rise in anxiety and stress levels, she would do one of several things—climb on his lap to calm him, jump on him to wake him if he is having nightmares, and even pull him towards an exit if in an anxiety-producing situation.
Iris gave Mr. Phyfe his life back. He has not had a full arrhythmia since she joined his family. His brain short-circuits became less frequent and less serious. He was cleared to drive again! Iris helped him return to the life he wanted to lead. He now pursues his photography work, and has traveled over 27,000 miles raising awareness of America’s VetDogs, with the goal of raising enough money to train three-to-four service dogs each year—with Iris at his side. The rescued pup became Mr. Phyfe’s rescuer. Iris recently retired from active service dog duty, but another dog, Mike, reported for duty. There is much more to this story—but no spoilers here! Read the book!
Mr. Stovroff & Cash (right) gather with Ret’d Lt. Col Kathy Champion (left) with her service dog, George—also profiled in Reporting For Duty
I was surprised to learn that even soldiers who fought in World War II suffer from PTSD. These heroes, the Greatest Generation, still experience flash backs and anxiety. Irwin Stovroff flew bombing missions in Normandy, France in August, 1944. His B-24 was shot down on his thirty-fifth mission—the crew’s last scheduled mission—parachuting him and his nine other crew members behind the German lines. Instead of going home, he wound up as a POW. His story of survival, post-war years, and how he decided to found Vets Helping Vets, a nonprofit organization that raises funds that are donated to organizations training service dogs for veterans are truly inspirational. At 93, Mr. Stovroff actively continues his mission, with his service dog, Cash, at his side. Since its founding in 2007, Vets Helping Vets has raised $4.5 million, funding the training of 120 dogs for veterans.
The inspirational and informative stories are accompanied by beautiful photos, so you feel like you know each veteran and service dog personally. The cover caused leaky eyes in this pup—and you know that dudes don’t cry very often. Check the book out at book stores and online—you may want to order one as a gift for your human for the holidays. And as an added incentive, a portion of each book sale is donated to Vets Moving Forward, one of the nonprofits profiled in Reporting for Duty.
I’m going to sneak the book back where scribe placed it. But I’m looking forward to some cuddle time when she reads it.
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