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WATCH NOW: An opportunity at freedom: Service canine helped Alexander County solider rejoin the world | Native Information

Donna Swicegood

After serving excursions in Iraq and two completely different branches of the navy, James Hamby got here residence with a traumatic mind harm and a case of Publish-Traumatic Stress Dysfunction (PTSD). He mentioned he spent almost a 12 months barely capable of go away his home from him.

That every one modified when he was paired with a golden retriever named Pokey. For Hamby, who lives in Hiddenite, Pokey represents greater than a companion. His calming presence of him may be summed up in a single phrase — freedom.

Hamby, a local of Newton, mentioned becoming a member of the navy was one thing he appeared destined to do from an early age. His father of him, his uncle and grandfather all served. “It was what I at all times wished to do,” he mentioned.

He did determine to take a barely completely different route in serving his nation than they did, nevertheless. I’ve joined the Marines. A couple of years later, with bases closing, and possibilities for reenlistment drying up, Hamby mentioned, he had to decide on — staying within the navy or returning to civilian life. He wished to remain within the navy so he joined the Military in 1997.

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Throughout the ensuing years, Hamby mentioned, I’ve served a number of excursions in Iraq. From 2003 to 2009, he mentioned, he has a number of a number of excursions in Iraq. In these years he endured numerous shut calls together with one occasion when the car he was driving in was hit by a number of rockets. “I did not assume I used to be going to make it residence,” he mentioned.

He did make it residence however got here again broken with the slightest factor triggering his PTSD. “I may very well be driving down the highway and see a field that dropped onto the highway and I might slam on my brakes questioning ‘is that going to blow up,’” he mentioned.

Hamby tried remedy however that wasn’t a super answer for one easy purpose. Hamby had problem leaving his residence. “It was laborious for me to go wherever,” he mentioned. “I spent near a 12 months not with the ability to go away my home.”

Then his spouse, Diane, a nurse, heard a couple of group referred to as Patriot Rovers that supplied service canine to veterans. Hamby utilized and was accepted, and shortly he was paired with Pokey. That was in 2011.

Pokey, he mentioned, modified his life utterly. “I can do what I need, go the place I need and he has introduced me again out into the world,” Hamby mentioned. A visit to the grocery retailer, even touring to see his youngsters and grandchildren, wouldn’t have been attainable with out Pokey, he mentioned.

Hamby mentioned he quickly realized Pokey was greater than only a service canine. Sooner or later, he mentioned, Pokey started licking his leg from him. A diabetic, Hamby determined to test his blood sugar from him. It was low. One other time, Pokey repeated his sudden licking of him and Hamby once more paid consideration, checking his blood sugar of him and realizing it was excessive.

“It isn’t one thing he was skilled for,” he mentioned.

Figuring out that Pokey is searching for him in a number of respects additionally gave Hamby the braveness to work on getting wholesome. He mentioned each he and his determined they wished to lose some weight and started taking a look at becoming a member of a health club.

That led them to Planet Health in Statesville and whole acceptance from the start, he mentioned. “They had been judgment free from the beginning,” Hamby mentioned.

With September designated as Nationwide Service Canine Month, Hamby mentioned, he needs folks and enterprise homeowners to grasp the significance of service canine and notice service canine — not like emotional assist or remedy canine — can go wherever their handler goes. He hopes different companies take a cue from the acceptance he is discovered at Planet Health.

He mentioned he discovered that open acceptance at each Planet Health he is been to — one thing he would not at all times discover with a service canine. “I’ve had probably the most bother at eating places,” he mentioned. He is referred to as the company headquarters on some and obtained an apology and present card. “Whether or not they retrain their employees I do not know,” he mentioned.

However some eating places have been greater than accommodating, he mentioned. One restaurant proprietor in Taylorsville, he mentioned, treats Pokey identical to every other buyer. “She goes in and fixes scorching canine for him,” he mentioned. “She simply loves him.”

The workers at Planet Health in Statesville really feel the identical manner, Hamby mentioned. “He goes up and says hello and so they give him treats,” he mentioned.

Paradoxically, Pokey gave Hamby his freedom and he quickly could also be doing the identical factor for Pokey.

Pokey bought his identify from a soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2008. Michael Phillips was nicknamed Pokey and the trainers at Patriot Rovers named what turned Hamby’s service canine in honor of the member of the 101sth Airborne.

Pokey is nearing retirement, possible by the top of this 12 months, and if Phillips’ dad and mom are keen, he’ll be part of them in Ardmore, Oklahoma, to stay out the rest of his life.

That’s Hamby’s alternative. Pokey can stay with Hamby who shall be getting a brand new canine quickly.

Tanner, a Labrador retriever, will end his coaching in December or January.

Generally, he mentioned, bringing in a brand new service canine with an present one can create issues.

Nonetheless, if the Phillips household decides to not take Pokey, Hamby mentioned, his 17-year-old son goes to turn out to be his new proprietor as Hamby and a brand new service canine acclimate to one another. Phillips dad and mom, Dave and Angeline, are buddies of Hamby’s and so they attended Pokey’s commencement from coaching a few years in the past.

Letting go of Pokey, he mentioned, shall be tough however he’s comforted by the thought that the canine can stay out his life with individuals who have a particular connection to him.

Hamby mentioned he’ll endlessly be grateful to what Pokey has delivered to him over the previous decade — unconditional love and freedom.

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