In “Vets and Pets: Wounded Warriors and the Animals that Help Them Heal,” authors Dava Guerin and Kevin Ferris tell story after story of a veteran and the animals — mostly dogs but also cats, horses, birds, and a pig — who helped them heal. In many cases, the animals that saved the veterans helped them not only heal, but live a normal life.
The book includes a wonderful anecdote about an incident that happened during the Battle of Germantown in the Revolutionary War. A small terrier was wandering on the battlefield, and after he was captured, the Americans realized that he belonged to the British General Howe. Washington was advised to keep the dog as a trophy and that it would demoralize the British troops. Washington, however, declared a truce and had the dog returned to his owner. He realized the importance of the bond between man and dog.
Likewise, many others in this book owe their lives to their pets. One story that stands out is that of Leslie Nicole Smith and Isaac, the dog who was rescued from a shelter with only twenty-four hours left to live. Isaac had been picked up as a stray in South Carolina and was so wild that he was not considered adoptable, much less a candidate for being a service dog. But Canines for Veterans, a group that scouts out shelter animals who might make service dogs, saw Isaac and tested him. He passed with flying colors. Isaac has helped Smith after the loss of her leg and some vision, and again when she lost all her vision. He saved her life while risking his own when a vicious dog attacked. Smith says, “I tell Isaac every day that he is my hero.”
Another veteran, Cpl. Justin Crabbe, lost both his legs and fingers after an IED exploded
in Afghanistan. The dog that saved him was a dog from Canine Companions for Independence, an organization that matches highly trained service dogs and the handicapped. His dog Gnome not only helps him with daily physical activities like bringing them their prosthetic limbs and opening doors, but also helps him with PTSD and just being out in public. Instead of staring at the lost limbs, people stare at the handsome dog and want to know more about Gnome.
As a side note, one of the most moving experiences in the life of this reviewer was when she attended the training at Canine Companions for Independence while getting a facility dog and got to witness what the service dogs do for those who are handicapped. One of the veterans at the training had, like Crabbe, lost both legs in service. His dog not only brought him his prosthetic legs, he was an anchor for the veteran when walking, especially up stairs. What dogs like Gnome do and the services they provide for the veterans are incredible and life-changing.
As cat lovers and bird lovers, many animal lovers know that it’s not just dogs who can provide unconditional love and affection. There are other animals and their veterans whose stories are told in this book. There are cats, eagles, horses. The authors write:
“Many other animal species have helped veterans and warfighters recover from their physical and invisible injuries. A red-tailed hawk on a veteran’s arm can transform his life. A cat can mitigate loss and grief. A potbelly pig renews a sense of belonging and being needed. A horse can offer calm in an emotional storm. And dogs — well they are simply man’s best friend and can be as close as family members for wounded veterans.”
In the very next paragraph, the authors say words that will warm the heart of any animal rescuer. “One of the most crucial lessons we have learned is the importance of animal adoption. Why pay for something so precious and life altering when adoption is a far more affordable option? Abandoned and abused animals deserve a permanent home of their own, and they have found that and more with so many of our nation’s veterans.” And as every animal rescuer knows, rescued animals know that they have been rescued, and they appreciate that home all the more.
But this reviewer’s favorite quote is the one about shedding. “Everyone who sees me out in public wearing a black shirt full of hair knows I have animals in my life. I wear that fur-laden shirt as a badge of honor!” Shawn Dunn, a veteran and a veterinarian, adopted Crixus, a dog rescued by the Michigan Humane Society, after the animal had been shot and paralyzed intentionally by gang members when he was just a six-week-old puppy. She and her husband have a menagerie that includes six horses, four dogs, four cats and a starling bird that they rescued. She wears her animal fur proudly, and understands that if you have pets, your furniture will suffer. “Just deal with it,” she wisely advises. Spoken like a true animal rescuer and animal lover.
The book includes forwards by Former First Lady Barbara Bush and Andrea Arden of Animal Planet.
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Skyhorse Publishing for review purposes.