Local veteran's dog up for Hero Dog Award

By: 
Joshua Waddles,
Staff Writer

A local service dog is up for the American Humane Hero Dog Award for his work with Afghanistan war veteran Sergeant Toby Yarbrough.

Yarbrough grew up in Malvern, and he also grew up around German shepherds. When he was told he would need a service dog for his injuries he sustained in Afghanistan, he knew he wanted a German shepherd.

Yarbrough suffers from seizures and a traumatic brain injury (TBI) from his service in Afghanistan in 2002 when a front-end loader flipped on top of him while he was performing repairs. It also broke Yarbrough’s back in three places and he suffers from PTSD and severe migraines.

He spent some time in a wheelchair, but after physical therapy, he was able to walk with a cane. He was told he would need a service dog, so he visited a breeder who operated near his home in Georgia and met Duke, a newborn puppy.

Duke’s training took two years and cost $40,000. Members of Yarbrough’s unit helped pay for the training. Duke can detect changes in Yarbrough’s body chemistry, which warn’s duke that a seizure is about to occur so Duke can bring Yarbrough his seizure medication. Duke will also wake Yarbrough up from a nightmare and Duke distracts Yarbrough during PTSD-related panic attacks.

Duke is a dog of many hats who is also trained as a lifeguard for swimming pools. He’s traveled the world to educate communities about service animals and he has helped raise funds for veterans.

Duke, now 14, is retired and a new rescue dog has been trained to take over. Duke now has arthritis and issues with his hip. But although Duke is mostly healthy now, Yarbrough knows that Duke is getting older and its only a matter of time.

Yarbrough said he’s been able to do things over the past 13 years that he never would have been able to do without Duke. He want on a cruise, he wrote and published a book about his life with Duke and he walked the catwalk at a Wounded Wear fashion show.

“If it wasn’t for duke, I wouldn’t be here,” said Yarbrough.

The American Humane Association Hero Dog Award was created to advance society’s understanding of the bond between dogs and people. The annual award searches for hero dogs in eight categories: law enforcement and arson dogs, service dogs, therapy dogs, military dogs, guide dogs search and rescue dogs, hearing dogs and emerging hero dogs.

For more information or to vote for Duke, please visit http://herodogawards.org/dog/duke-2/.

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