April 22, 2013 On the Record: WWII Veteran’s Efforts for the Next Generation Honored

Boca veteran started training effort for veteran service dogs
By Anne Geggis, Sun Sentinel
7:21 p.m. EDT, April 22, 2013
Irwin Stovroff thought he was going to lunch Monday to celebrate new milestones in the development of his charity, which trains service dogs and matches returning military veterans with the right “ruff.”

But the 90-year-old World War II veteran’s jaw dropped when he found out he is now part of recorded history.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, showed up and read Stovroff a speech he originally made on the floor of the U.S. House. Now, Stovroff, a longtime Boca resident, and his organization, Vets Helping Heroes, are part of the Congressional Record.

“There is no one I know who epitomizes what is great about our veterans as much as you,” Deutch said. “We owe you an enormous debt of gratitude for the heroism you’ve shown at every stage of your life.”

Stovroff, who spent part of his World War II service as a Jewish prisoner-of-war, was speechless at the honor, which also included a live tribute from Palm Beach County Mayor Steven Abrams and a written declaration from Boca Mayor Susan Whelchel that Monday was “Irwin Stovroff Day.”

“Oh, wow,” said the retired furniture businessman. “Am I surprised. This is overwhelming.”

Retiring is not something he ever took to, Stovroff explains. A golf pro swore him off and his lobs usually didn’t make it over the tennis court net, he said. Grateful that he survived that 35th bombing run that ended with his plane shot down over Germany, Stovroff said he decided to volunteer to help veterans.

At first, he worked as a national service officer for ex-POWs, helping them with pensions and claims. But the number needing that kind of help thinned to a trickle, he said. So the director of the veterans’ hospital in Palm Beach County asked him to help in rehabilitation for blind veterans, just as the ranks returning from the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were starting to swell. Then Stovroff said he discovered that the federal government didn’t have the money to train guide dogs.

In 2007, Vets Helping Heroes was officially born. Now, the organization has raised $5 million for the dog training that can cost as much as $60,000 per dog. And Vets Helping Heroes is nearing a milestone — nearly 70 dogs have been placed in helping roles, according to Pat Levenson, the organization’s executive director.

Some of them are seeing-eye dogs, some of them help detect an oncoming seizure, others help their humans cope with the lingering affects of post-traumatic distress.

Stovroff said he knows all about what was once called, “shell-shock” — he had it. And he’s always had a dog by his side to help him cope.

“One thing for sure, a dog will give you unconditional love 24 hours a day,” he said. “It’s love you can’t get anywhere else.”

ageggis@tribune.com or 561-243-6624
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