By Patrick Donovan – Author/Screenwriter
US Navy Disabled Veteran – 1980 – 1991
Seattle, WA (The Hollywood Times) 11/8/2019
“The Service Dog is a lifeline to the Veteran and the ear to listen, the way to peace and their voice is simple: Love!”
– Patrick Donovan
War, the blood-swollen god, asks us to sacrifice our young. Beware of that sacrifice. Fear it.
- Chris Hedges, author
About the Film:
The film and trailer feature an original song by Grammy Award-Winning artist Jon Bon Jovi. Directed and produced by Josh Aronson, produced by Julie Sayres and executive produced by Carolyn Clark Powers and Chuck Ortner. The film features veterans and their service dogs: Greg Kolodziejczyk and Valor, Sylvia Bowersox and Timothy, Tom Moody and Mako, Brandon Lewis and Booth, Phil Bauer and Champ, Walter Parker and Jackson.
TO BE OF SERVICE explores the remarkable life changes resulting from the introduction of trained service dogs in to the lives of military veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many veterans’ experience of returning home is wrought with depression and a wrenching disconnect from the world they once knew.
Family, old friends and jobs seem foreign and the newly returned men and women struggle to function and return to a normal civilian life. Often the meds and therapy provided by the VA hasn’t helped these veterans imprisoned by the wounds of trauma, and they suffer trying to handle even the most mundane of daily tasks.
Then, for the lucky ones who are paired with a service dog, the unconditional love and support offered by these highly trained canines become the bedrock for them to re-engage with the outside world and to learn to feel again. In addition to providing constant companionship, these dogs help veterans navigate their fears. They help them sleep without night terrors, they support them as they face their daily challenges, and, over time, they restore their ability to feel safe, to be independent, to trust and to love again.
In “To Be Of Service” we cross the country to meet veterans just before they are paired with their service dog and learn how profoundly difficult their lives have been. We follow as they are paired with their dog and will re-visit these new battle buddies over the months to see how this deeply bonded friendship brings a return to independence and love for these men and women who have been so traumatized by war.
Since Vietnam the VA has worked to develop treatment programs for veterans suffering from PTSD, including therapy and medications, but, as yet, there is no universally effective protocol. The VA launched a pilot program evaluating the benefits of service dogs for PTSD, which has taken many years to complete, but their conclusions have still not been announced and as yet the VA will not sanction service dogs as a treatment for PTSD and no funding will be forthcoming for dogs.
Only the dead have seen the end of war. 500,000 American Veterans suffer from PTSD.
After years of disappointing outcomes from VA Treatments, positive results come from a surprising place: SERVICE DOGS.
Phil Bauer – Iraq Deployment. Phil paused for 30 seconds while getting on a helo bound for Qatar. In his mind, something said, don’t do it. He did it anyway. He dealt with the crash of his helicopter and the unresponsive eyes of his female crewmate. He’s in a crater, surrounded by a crater. Then a fire. His legs were trapped under the wreckage. There was nothing he could do while he caught on fire. His boot melted off, then the screaming. It’s embedded in his memory forever. What he’s allowed to affect him and what he’s changed the picture on.
Greg Kolodziejczyk, Far Rockaway, NY – Valor his service dog.
It’s a unique emotional bond that Greg has with Val. He’ll do anything for him and he’ll do anything for him. A year earlier, he was basically homebound. He has no choice. He can’t sleep. Flashbacks and nightmares. It’s a never ending cycle. The worst thing about PTSD is the loneliness. The epic of Gilgamesh the Sumerian King over 4000 years ago, it’s in the Bible. King David and Saul. PTSD is recorded.
The Nakota Tribe had a word for PTSD that meant that the soul has left. Shell Shock from WWI, Combat Fatigue from WWII, were earlier names for the same condition. Warrior’s tend to like “Soldiers Heart” better instead of PTSD. A soldiers heart is a broken heart. They can carry it better as it is their story. This came from the Civil War of the United States.
He has a list of things he’d like to do. Used to go to Yankee Games, no more. The beach, he can’t. He froze. Got stuck. He had the fear of being shot. This was a year before he got his dog. Grew up in Poland. He came to the United States at 14 years old and got into Cocaine at 16, extortion, felonies, guns, and money laundering. When 9-11 happened, it was like a lightbulb went off and he wanted to serve his country. Jamie, his adult daughter, recalls that when he enlisted that changed the trajectory of his life.
Tom Moody leaves his uniform out as a symbol of the warrior he used to be. He uses video games to escape this world. He has no friends. Other parents give him that glance of judgement. He feels as if everyone’s staring at him but no one is. He stands as far away as he can from everyone. Elona, his daughter, is the stone he stands on.
She’s only 8 and she’s saved her dad from committing suicide many times.
Sylvia Bowersox – Iraq War Veteran, Army, 3 deployments.
She was a war journalist and nothing could prepare her for war. Nothing could prepare her for the first time a rocket flew over her head and counting: 1-1000, 2-1000 and BOOM! Driving through Baghdad and smelling that horrible smell. That horrible smell were rotting bodies. There was no morgue because they are in the streets. That rotting smell were once people, with lives, with families and now, everything smells. Nothing can replace that horrible rotting smell. With war, when someone dies, there’s nothing left. Poof!
Sylvia, put herself into the DC VA Hospital and behind bars. She said that the VA put her on pills, and more pills, and because she was diagnosed with Bi-Polar. After 5 years, she went to Stanford Medical Center and they told her she didn’t have bi-polar and got her off the pills. Took 1 year.
Then she went to the VA and freaked out and they suggested: How about a dog? Now, she’s reconnecting with the world and Timothy, helps her through her day.
Brandon Lewis – Marines (ret.) Iraq, 3 Deployments.
Brandon, almost hurt a coworker. But having Booth, his service dog, stopped him. Brandon has no emotions. Something happened to him over there, his sister recalls, that he brought back with him. Emotionless. Brandon Lewis drank a lot when he got back from war. He’s says it’s a culture shock coming back. He drank a bottle of Hennessy every day.
Walter Parker, a Vietnam Veteran, recounts, crying, when he got home from Vietnam [pausing and tearing up], he says, “It wasn’t what I expected it to be.” Little did he know, that when he came home, that he would be treated so bad. They were called “Baby Killers.” They couldn’t walk down the street without someone saying something terrible to them. He didn’t wear his uniform anymore, didn’t wear his hat anymore…
These warriors sometimes have trouble with the VA. All these veterans say the same things about the VA: They have a single solution – DRUGS! Over medicating which is illogical and in some cases, illegal!
These veterans say you have to live with the monster of PTSD. Because when it shows up, it’ll destroy you. It’s like being in water with ice over you. You can hit on that ice and scream as loud as you want to. You see your family on the other side of the ice and there’s nothing you can do. You can’t go out of your house without being so scared of your own shadow.
Canines for Warriors provides services dogs to veterans to help them deal with PTSD. Paws4Vets helps as well. They all meet with their dogs and have group sessions. They have no idea what these dogs will do for them. Brandon shared how he had to clean up body parts from soldiers who took their own lives. He hadn’t been able to share this prior to getting Booth.
Service dogs are well trained dogs but as Terry Henry states, the founder of Paws4Vets, it’s not a well-trained dog unless you know how to use it.
Many veterans report that when they have nightmares, the dog would jump in bed with them, lay on their chests over their hearts to give comfort. They cover, watch their backs. They are aware enough to know when you do something that you do due to nervousness or something else, triggers the dog to stop you and interrupt the event. These dogs are fiercely loyal to you, protect you, never leave my fallen owner behind.
They help us vets make it through life. Watching this film gave me chills. I’m a proud owner of three dogs. Two AKC Registered German Rottweilers, Apollo and Rosie, and a small curly white haired mixed breed, Sophie. Oh, did I mention the three cats? They, we, all get along.
Sophie, sleeps with me on the bed next to my pillow. She will wake me up by standing on my chest. She’s not a certified service dog, but I’m not complaining. I’ve owned dogs since I was a kid. My first was a Tri-Colored Collie named Suki. Then we got a sable (“Lassie”) Collie named Duke. He was a rescue and we gave him 8 years more as he was going to be euthanized.
Then I saved Princess, a year old when I rescued her, a Corgi spaniel mix, was beaten and thrown by her previous owner. Joined with her was Squeaky. Squeaky’s life started when I found him following Princess and me during our walks. When I got home to my apartment (back in 94), Squeaky, was scratching on the door. I opened it and there he was. Matted hair, dirty, and a crusty hard ring around his neck. I washed him and took him to the vet the next day. What they found was that he had kite string around his neck, into his mouth, restricting his tongue and cut the sides of his mouth open. The infection was so bad, the vets nearly gagged during the operation.
Squeaky was saved and was a happy loyal dog. I was playing with him outside, two days later, when this woman came by and said that was her dog and her dog ran away. I said, no, he’s mine and I took him to the vet. Squeak had all the hair on his head and neck shaved off so he was hard to recognize. She said, her dog, really Squeaky, was outside tied with kite string tightly, she said, so he wouldn’t get away, in the rain and cold during a bad November. I told her, no wonder why he got away. Squeaky had chewed through the string and got loose. The string around his neck flipped into his mouth, the vet said, and every time he did that, the string would tighten and roll his skin nearly choking him.
I tell you this because I am a lover of animals and I gave him 12 years. He was susceptible to the moon phases and had seizures because of it. I never knew this. It was so bad that it took him nearly 10 min to come out of. It was one seizure too much in 2008 when I had to put him down 1 year after I had to put Princess down. The hardest days of my life. I will always have dogs in my life until the day I leave this earth. These dogs help release oxytocin in your brain and they know before you know that something’s going to happen to you or if something’s wrong.
These dogs help you interact socially and it’s been known that they help you with relieving depression, being more participatory in activities, reduction in medications, relieve stress, and the dogs will listen and not talk back to you, something that our wives desperately ask of us, guys, to shut up and just let me talk! But I digress, this is about service dogs and not pets. They are service dogs. They have training schedules and different than just a pet.
The higher the level of trauma, the more potentially damaging the effects… and the more likely the development of PTSD.
– American Psychological Association
This war, thing, this jihad, the gutting’s, the raping’s, beheading them, leaving them to rot in the house or the streets; children, the mother and daughters, raped and beheaded, the father and sons tortured… this wasn’t combat, this was hell on earth!
This is what war does and services dogs is what helps alleviate that pain and memories. What we find is that what we veterans do, in war, does not make the world better. However, these men and women would rather be back in the battlefield walking with their buddies instead of being in America where we’ve lost our way. For them, there’s nothing like the natural high of being back there, decked out, ready for anything. For them, they’d go back in a heartbeat if they could.
Military service and the combat experience are one-way journeys that transform us forever and after the 300th time you’re thanked for your service, you say, “Come back! I want to tell you what I did! I want to talk to you…” To Be of Service to our Veterans is what the service dog does for us. They listen when we want to talk and talk to us through their unconditional love.
Trailer YouTube: https://youtu.be/UUWw7XJsSMw