By Arden Moore
Irwin Stovroff of Boca Raton is living proof that you’re never too old to make a difference and that you should never underestimate the healing power of dogs.
Stovroff, energetic at 87, first caught my attention when he recently appeared on the Bonnie Hunt Show with his golden
retriever, Cash, to share what he is doing to reach out to injured war
But Stovroff’s lifelong commitment to veterans really began six decades ago, on
Aug. 13, 1944. On his 35th and
final mission — one day away from going home — this World War II Air Force
second lieutenant welcomed the arrival of the morning from inside a B-24
Liberator flying behind enemy lines near Caen, France.
“We had our bags packed to go home and were envisioning parades,” he recalls. “Instead, we ended up in a prison camp.”
German anti-aircraft artillery pierced both engines, setting them afire. Stovroff and
the nine other crew members bailed out and parachuted into German-dominated
territory, dodging bullets as they floated down. Acting quickly, Stovroff
ripped off his GI dog tags that indicated he was Jewish. The crew members were
captured as soon as their boots touched ground and ordered to march into a
cemetery with freshly dug graves.
“I thought they were marching us to be killed and dumped into those graves,”
recalls Stovroff. “The German commander said, ‘Nein, nein, we do not kill our
Stovroff fought fatigue and starvation inside POW camps before being freed by a Russian
troop in May 1945. He weighed a mere 85 pounds on his 5-foot 10-inch frame on
his first day of freedom.
Belatedly awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 2000 by former POW and presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Stovroff declines to call himself a hero.
Instead, this longtime Boca Raton resident views himself as “the luckiest person there
is.” He retired from a successful furniture-business career and brings ageless
energy into his role as president of Veterans Helping Heroes, a nonprofit group
that pairs service dogs with veterans coping with physical and emotional
issues. He also volunteers three times a week as a national service officer at
the West Palm Beach Veterans Administration center, working with ex-POWs to help
them obtain pensions and medical care.
Growing up with dogs as the youngest of three children in Buffalo, N.Y., Stovroff
always knew that dogs unleashed hope and inspiration. But the special service
dog training averages about $50,000 per dog. This special breed of dog must be
on duty 24/7 and not only meet the physical needs of these veterans, but also
their emotional needs triggered by combat stress.
He shares the story of a veteran named Mark who suffers from seizures following
three tours of duty. With Stovroff’s help, money was raised to pair Mark with a
service dog named Larry from VetDogs.
“Larry starts barking to alert Mark when he is about to have a seizure; he gets on top
of him to protect him during his seizure and licks his face as he comes out of
his seizure,” says Stovroff. “I am constantly amazed by how special these dogs
are and how they help our vets.”
Since 2008, Stovroff has helped raise $2 million to cover the cost of these specially
trained dogs. In 2009, he worked with U.S. Rep. Ron Klein, D-Fla., and Sen. Al
Franken, D-Minn., to get Congress to pass the Wounded Warrior K-9 Corps Act
that provided $5 million for organizations that train dogs to help blind and
disabled military veterans.
Always at his side is Cash, a well-trained, 3-year-old golden retriever that
accompanies him on visits to see veterans hospitalized and recovering at home.
At home, he and his girlfriend, Doris, also enjoy the company of Jennie, a
corgi trained as a therapy dog.
“I brought Cash with me to meet a veteran named Arnold recently,” says Stovroff.
“He was on his third tour in Iraq and inside a tank when an IED exploded. His
head slammed against the tank and the three others inside died. Arnold suffered
severe brain damage and lost his eyesight. He has three kids and a wife.”
Stovroff pauses, collects his emotions, and continues, “He was petting Cash and we both
started crying. I said to him, ‘I went through holy hell in war, but I realize
how lucky I am. I have all my limbs. I came back in one piece. I have had a
wonderful life and being here with Cash to help you is the best thing I can
It took six months, but, Stovroff helped arrange for Arnold to be paired with a service dog.
“For as long as I’m able, I will do everything I can to help these veterans and work
to get them specially trained dogs that can help them live their lives to the
fullest,” he says.
To learn more about Stovroff and Vets Helping Heroes, visit www.vetshelpinghoeroes.org and
www.vetdogs.org. Catch his appearance on the Bonnie Hunt Show by viewing this short video:
Arden Moore, Founder of Four Legged Life.com, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author and professional
speaker. She happily shares her home with two dogs, two cats and one overworked
vacuum cleaner. Tune in to her “Oh Behave!” show on Pet Life Radio.com and
learn more by visiting www.fourleggedlife.com.