World War II vet provides service dog for veterans

Labrador Retriever 'works' at veterans home

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Monday was Bruce's first day on the job.

"He's had a long day," remarked Geraldine Ann Palkovic, stroking one of Bruce's ears.

Every day, Bruce and his handler, Chaplain Gary Leopard, will make their rounds visiting veterans, like Geraldine Ann, who call the community living center home, bringing joy and cheer into their lives.

"We're finding out a lot of the patients had pets at home, especially dogs," said Leopard, "so Bruce is bringing out those good memories they had with their pets. It's been a good interaction."

Bringing dogs like Bruce to veterans is World War II veteran and P.O.W. Irwin Stovroff's mission. Stoffroff started a non-profit organization, "Vets Helping Heroes," in 2006 to provide the funds to train service dogs like Bruce. Stovroff, who considers himself fortunate to have returned from service, said he is happy to do what he can for other veterans.

"It's a marvelous, marvelous thing," he said. "It will extend their lives and make them happier and nobody could be any happier than I am."

Veteran Joseph Jones has had dogs since he was a kid.

"He's a wonderful friend to talk to," he said, while petting Bruce. "He's a good listener. That's one thing about Bruce and I love him. He's a very beautiful dog."

Dr. Michael Silverman of the Community Living Center said a dog like Bruce can give these men and women purpose.

"I think from the standpoint of emotion and psychological well being, I think it can be a tremendous, tremendous positive note in their lives," he said.

"He gives you a feeling of security and love and care," said veteran Charlie Filler.

Bruce is getting all that in return.

"If you've ever heard of the Velveteen Rabbit story," explained Leopard, referring to the children's book about the much loved and very worn toy stuffed rabbit, "I'm afraid they're going to rub off all of Bruce's fur. They love him so much."

Dogs like Bruce are also in high demand for our returning veterans dealing with war injuries and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. "Vets Helping Heroes" and Southeastern Guide Dogs have partnered to provide 60 service dogs for returning vets since 2006. Unfortunately, it can cost up to $50,000 to train a service dog. To learn more about how you can help, go to www.VetsHelpingHeroes.org.

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