After personal struggle, retired Army sergeant now matches veterans with service dogs

Veterans Voices

Toby Yarbrough credits his own service dogs for saving his life after he was severely wounded during a 2002 deployment

CHESAPEAKE, Va. (WYTV) – Our Veterans Voices segment continues to bring you the stories of veterans throughout the nation, veterans who are using their struggles to help others.

One of those stories is about unconditional love. How a service dog saved an Army veteran’s life… time and time again.

At 140 pounds and with the stature of a soldier is a dog named Duke.

He’s a gentle giant, a best friend and a battle buddy for retired Army Sergeant Toby Yarbrough.

“At the beginning, I didn’t want one. I was like, I’m not disabled, I’m not blind, I’m not deaf, I don’t need one,” Yarbrough said.

But he credits Duke for saving his life after he was severely wounded during a 2002 deployment. He was on a mission to recover a front end loader in Afghanistan.

“In the process of repairing it, it shifted and when it did, it pinned me down. When it did, you had over 2,000 tons on your back,” Yarbrough said.

In that moment, everything faded to black.

Yarbrough broke his back in three places and suffered a traumatic brain injury, robbing him of his short-term memory.

He medically retired in 2003 and struggled to overcome PTSD and seizures.

When Yarbrough returned home, he shelled out $40,000 for the very animal that would save him time and time again.

“He was trained that he would nudge me and if I felt my medication in his mouth, I knew I was having a seizure,” Yarbrough said.

In June 2018, Duke passed away.

“He brought out the life in me. He would say, ‘I want to go out farther and farther. I want to do this,'” Yarbrough said.

They went on a cruise, traveled to Belize and walked on a cat-walk for charity.

“Veterans need all the help they can get,” Yarbrough said.

That’s why Yarbrough has made it his mission to match veterans with service dogs. Doctors, health specialists, even veterans from across the country team up with Yarbrough to find the right service dog.

It’s the life he wants other veterans to live.

Today, Yarbrough relies on another rescue dog, Sasha.

“It’s my story and it needs to be heard,” Yarbrough said.

For Yarbrough, Sasha and Duke are not only man’s best friend, but the buddies fighting the battle long after the war.

“Unseen, unheard but always near. Still loved, still missed and always very dear,” Yarbrough read.

Yarbrough wrote a story about how Duke impacted his life, it’s called A Quiet Healing. The book is now an award-winning documentary.

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