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A Dog's Gift: The Inspirational Story of Veterans and Children Healed by Man's Best Friend by [Bob Drury]

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

Birth

"Bob! It's time. Get down here."

There is an urgency to Terry's voice that I've never heard

Before. I roll out of bed, check my watch, and take the stairs two at a time. It is nearing midnight as I reach the whelping room, sliding across the floor like a cartoon character in my stocking feet. A rumpled Terry is on his knees in the penned-in nursery, cradling Claire's furry head in his arms. He is wearing his trademark uniform of khaki cargo pants, a black T- shirt, and a dark fleece, the clothes creased six ways from Sunday as a result of sleeping on an inflatable air mattress on the floor next to the laboring Golden Retriever.

"Come on, baby," he whispers in a tone as soft as church music. "That's right. Everything's okay. We've done this before."

The five-year-old Claire is about to give birth to her third litter of puppies. Although some female dogs can deliver up to the age of seven or eight, Terry and Kyria have decided that this will be Claire's last. Throughout this pregnancy, she has been acting "a little off," in Terry's words. "More jumpy; not eating right."

Claire is not technically due for another three days. But this afternoon-- day sixty of a dog's typical sixty-three-day gestation period--her temperature dropped from 101 to 98 degrees, and earlier this evening she had ignored a bowl of milk, shredded lamb, and rice that Terry had nudged under her nose. Her lack of appetite worried him, and he sensed that she would drop the pups prematurely.

Now Terry runs a hand through his salt-and-pepper brush cut as thick as otter fur and glances up at me with a weary smile. "Contractions started," he says. "Kyria's on her way."

In an adjacent room, a temporary kennel, five curious dogs--three Goldens and two Labs--jostle against the door gate for a better view. Terry and Kyria have only relocated from northern Virginia to their new North Carolina headquarters in the past week--I am their first guest--and parts of the two-story building still resemble a construction site, while the scent of disinfectant fills the entire facility. I follow Terry's gaze as he juts his chin toward a table in the corner piled high with folded quilts and towels, the clean laundry stacked beside a box holding balls of yarn in various colors.

"If you could hand me a blanket," he says, "and maybe start cutting that yarn into pieces of, oh, twelve inches or so."

Yarn? The only birth I have ever been present for was my son Liam- Antoine's, fifteen years ago, and I am certain I would recall if there was a need for yarn. We were in a French maternity hospital north of Paris-- Liam-Antoine's mother is French--and I vividly remember the array of gleaming instruments on a table to the side of her birthing bed. The forceps. The medical scissors to snip the umbilical cord. Even the pan in which the placenta would eventually be placed. But no yarn. Terry seems to read my thoughts.

"When the puppies arrive, we mark their birth order and time. Claire's x- ray showed eight, and things are going to get a little hectic around here. We weigh them and tie a different-colored piece of yarn around each of their necks to remember who's who for the records. I'll need your help keeping track."

He turns back to Claire and gently urges her to push while he adjusts the two heat lamps on either side of the whelping pen. The joke around paws4people is that Terry loves dogs more than he likes people. Actually, from what I've seen so far, it's really not a joke at all. It is among dogs that I have seen him most relaxed. But Claire is even more special to Terry. A few years back, his beloved Golden Retriever Addie, his own personal psychological Service Dog who helped him cope with his PTSD, died suddenly. Terry was devastated and went into a blue funk. Finally, at Kyria's insistent urgings, he began seeking Addie's successor, and after several starts and stops with potential dogs, he met Claire, with whom he developed a strong bond. Claire was in fact still being trained and groomed as Terry's dog when he noticed the calming effect the dog had on a navy veteran named April Cook.

April had approached paws4vets seeking help three years earlier, and Terry immediately sensed the emotional connection between her and Claire. When Claire nuzzled and cuddled with her, April visibly relaxed, to the point where she almost seemed a different person. Her old self, maybe. Terry could only guess.

What he did know was that April had enlisted soon after 9/11 and survived four deployments to Iraq as part of a helicopter medical evacuation and combat search-and-rescue unit. During those tours, she had helped triage scores of wounded and dying American soldiers. April had always thought of herself as an outgoing and vivacious person, curious as to the ways, whys, and wherefores of the world. It was one of the reasons, along with a strong sense of patriotism, that she had joined the navy after high school. Yet following each deployment into combat zones--downrange, as American servicemen and women refer to it--she suspected that her personality was slowly changing.

"It's hard to explain," she would later tell me. "Like something in my soul was eroding and making me more and more skittish and jumpy and just kinda nuts. I would bawl like a baby at the tiniest things. Losing my hairbrush. A mouse in my tent. I found I wanted to talk to my crew members less and less. I didn't want to hear their stories. I didn't want to know them too well in case they got killed."

One day, arriving by chopper to tend to the survivors of a firefight outside of Baghdad, her medical crew was ambushed by insurgents. Her helicopter's crew chief pushed her out of the way to safety just as a mortar shell exploded nearby. The crew chief was killed instantly. If not for his actions, it would have been April. This incident was the culmination of a long and debilitating two years. During her earlier deployments, she had been sexually assaulted on multiple occasions by a higher-ranking sailor from her unit. When she reported this to his superior officer, she was threatened with a dishonorable discharge. Those traumas seemed to come to a head after the ambush. She served out her remaining time, received an honorable discharge, and returned home with a severe case of survivor's guilt.

It was difficult for Terry to part with Claire, but in April he recognized the dog's true soul mate.

"Maybe there were other dogs that might have pulled April out of her downward spiral," Terry told me. "But I didn't want to take the chance to wait around and find out."

So last year he placed April's well-being over his own and presented her with Claire. He had only been reunited with Claire last week, when April drove her from her home in Fayetteville and dropped her off so she could give birth at the Wilmington center. Since separating from Claire, April had called the center several times each day to check in on her. What kept April functioning emotionally as she attended therapy classes and lived on her military pension was the knowledge that as soon as Claire's pups were finished suckling, she would return to Fayetteville. On a few occasions, April had even asked Terry or Kyria to put the phone to Claire's ear so she could tell her she loved her.

Terry could relate to the emotional connection; since placing Claire with April, he had "taken up" (as he puts it) with another beautiful Service Dog, eight-year-old Chaeney, one of the Goldens now in the kennel in the next room. Chaeney had been the feistiest puppy in the second litter paws4people had ever bred, and Terry jokes that he wasn't sure what to do with this "worthless, untrainable" dog until one day, on a whim, he decided to take Chaeney along to an elementary school's special needs classroom that he and Addie were visiting.

The formerly "worthless" Chaeney blossomed with the children, and he was soon certified as an Educational Assistance Dog with a particular knack for assisting special needs kids prone to violent outbursts. Terry also discovered that when he was with Chaeney, the dog had a soothing influence on his own "black moods." So with Claire gone, Terry turned to Chaeney to be his personal Service Dog, and now he never travels anywhere without him at his side. Yet as much as Terry loves Chaeney, I can see that he still misses his old companion. It is obvious from the way that he now gently massages Claire's distended belly.

"Her water broke about a half hour ago," he says. "She's been really pushing for twenty or thirty minutes."

I find scissors and start snipping yarn while Terry, still stroking Claire, begins to tell me his story.

Terry Henry grew up hopscotching across America's heartland. His father, Jim, a troubleshooting engineer for General Electric, was transferred often, and Terry attended schools in Kentucky, Illinois, and Indiana. It was the Henry home outside of Fort Wayne, Indiana, that he seems to recall with the most fondness--the vast corn fields just across the street that bled into dense woods crisscrossed by creeks. It was in those trees and streams that Terry and the neighborhood kids spent hours constructing forts and building dams. A boy's nirvana.

Terry was the oldest of two; his mother, Pat, who taught in and later ran nursery schools, would give birth to his sister, Joan, two years later. He was a smart and curious child with good grades, and by the time he reached high school, his interests were myriad, including (in no particular order) girls, sports, the military, and dogs. The first three came naturally, his fascination with soldiers increasing with every television episode of Combat or The Desert Rats and spiking whenever a movie such as The Longest Day arrived at the local theater. The fourth was thrust on him. When he was five years old, his mother took in a Collie from her army-bound cousin, and the pet's care and feeding fell on Terry. It was one way, Jim Henry figured, to teach his son about responsibility. It also had another effect.

"That's probably when I fell in love with dogs," Terry recalled.

Except for school, the two went everywhere together; he even brought her to the sandlot and hitched her leash under the stands when he played baseball. When the Collie died of old age, a German Shepherd puppy replaced her in the Henry household, and despite Terry's busy high school agenda, he always made time for her, too. As with the Collie before her, Terry just liked having a dog around, like a good friend.

Meanwhile, Terry had blossomed into a strong athlete who lettered in football and baseball, but in his senior year his burgeoning career was cut short when he shattered his left arm and shoulder running into an outfield wall. Several surgeries followed, and doctors eventually inserted plates into his shoulder to hold it together. The knowledge that he would never play ball again hurt, but his disappointment was mitigated when the ROTC (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) offered him a full scholarship to pursue an engineering degree at Vanderbilt University, Nashville's venerable "Harvard of the South."

During his first semester at Vanderbilt, Terry secretly adopted another German Shepherd puppy despite the school's prohibition against pets in the dorms. "I had to hide it, sneaking it in and out the window for walks at night and early in the morning," he said while surreptitiously eyeballing the lengths of yarn I laid out on the table.

"I thought I was getting away with something until the end of my freshman year, when this guy comes up to me and says, 'I've enjoyed watching you raise your German Shepherd.' Then he identified himself as the dean of students."

This encounter proved fortuitous. In Terry's sophomore year, he was living off-campus with his pet when one night he and the dog stepped in to prevent some local tough guys from accosting several female students at a mixer. The encounter allowed him to convince the dean of students to form a campus security program, where he got his first taste of what he thought might become a career. Meanwhile, he had also enlisted in the university's naval ROTC program, and he spent his summers training at various military bases throughout the Far East, including a session at the navy's vaunted Philippines Jungle Survival School.

It was there that a bacterial infection attacked his pericardium, the fibrous sac that surrounds the heart. Terry was flown back to the States and underwent a rare and risky operation to remove his pericardium; he endured yet more surgeries when it was discovered that the bones broken in the old baseball injury had failed to knit properly.

Despite these physical setbacks, Terry refused to give up on his ROTC commitment, even going so far in his sophomore year as to enroll in a private flight school to earn his pilot's license. It was his aspiration to fly navy fighter jets, but this, too, was to become another dream deferred. For after he graduated with his engineering degree in 1977, navy physicians informed him that the lingering effects of the pericarditis combined with his bum shoulder precluded him from ever piloting a military aircraft. Sympathetic to Terry's disappointment, his unit commander offered him an out--the Department of Defense was cutting back on active-duty numbers across the board in the wake of the Vietnam War, and the officer suggested that, given his medical history, Terry accept the honorable discharge for which he was eligible. And he did just that.

"They wouldn't let me fly, and I just didn't want to drive ships," he said, dividing his attention between me and Claire and constantly fiddling with the heat lamps. "But ever since the days of watching those war movies, I'd had this longing to be in the military. Plus, they had just paid for my college education, and I felt I owed the government. The other three services were all trimming back, but the air force was still accepting applications. I enlisted and spent the next eight years working in counterintelligence."
--This text refers to the hardcover edition.

About the Author

Bob Drury is a contributing editor at Men's Health and the author, coauthor, and editor of multiple bestsellingnonfiction books. He lives in Manasquan, NJ. --This text refers to the hardcover edition.

Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00RKO8GO6
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Rodale Books (May 19, 2015)
  • Publication date ‏ : ‎ May 19, 2015
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 10339 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Not Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Sticky notes ‏ : ‎ On Kindle Scribe
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 256 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.7 out of 5 stars 32 ratings

About the author

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Men's Health Contributing Editor and Military Correspondent Bob Drury has been nominated for three National Magazine Awards and a Pulitzer Prize. He has reported from Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, and Darfur among other sites. He is also the author, co-author, or editor of nine nonfiction books, including the New York Times bestselling HALSEY'S TYPHOON, LAST MEN OUT, and THE LAST STAND OF FOX COMPANY, the recipient of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation's 2010 General Wallace M. Greene Jr. Award for nonfiction.

His Kindle Single, SIGNATURE WOUND, is available from Amazon, and his latest book, THE HEART OF EVERYTHING THAT IS -- also a New York Times bestseller in hardcover -- was released in paperback by Simon & Schuster Publishing in September, 2014.

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