Meet our Unleash Jacksonville DUTY cover power team, Rob and Liberty Bell, and Rob’s wife, Carrie. They are a amazingly strong individuals working through every day as one.
“The night I got Liberty Bell I stuck a 45 in my mouth. I wanted a permanent solution. Now that I have Liberty in my life—the way she acts and responds to me—I no longer have that propensity.”
Robert is very passionate about invisible wound awareness. Over his 30-year Naval career, Robert suffered multiple TBIs (Traumatic Brain Injuries), and just by looks alone, you wouldn’t know Robert is a wounded warrior. Doctors haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly what’s causing his progressive debilitating symptoms, which adds to the frustration. “We didn’t do a great job in the ‘80s recognizing concussions and brain injuries, and there just isn’t enough awareness or funding for the 379,500+ service people who are now suffering. That has to change.”
Robert met Liberty Bell at a time when his symptoms started progressing and he was having seizures. His service dog, Gracie May, an amazing German Shepherd, was doing her final in-house training with What’s Up Dog Service Animal Training. Robert got to “borrow” a dog named Sasha (who was also being trained at What’s Up) while Gracie was away. During that time, Robert had three major seizures back to back. Sasha knew—she just instinctively knew. She immediately started taking care of Robert, nearly pushing his wife, Carrie, out of the way. Carrie was a little nervous, wondering what the dog was doing, but Sasha had the situation under control. She was trained for PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and mobility assist, but she wasn’t trained for seizure response or detection. “Dogs either have the ability to detect seizures or they don’t. This isn’t a trainable task. Unfortunately, as awesome as she was, my Gracie didn’t have that capacity. And it’s what I came to need as my disability progressed. I didn’t want to re-assign Gracie. But I had to.” Carrie knew pretty much right away, “Sasha was perfect for Rob.”
Sasha became Liberty Bell.
“I re-named her Liberty Bell because she gave me liberty. She gave me confidence to go out and do new things. I did go out with Gracie, but always to the same places. With Liberty, I’m confident in new situations. Three years ago, I would’ve told you service dogs were bunk … just a way for people to take their pets out. But a dog who is trained to perform these specific tasks is actually an extension of that person—a prosthetic.”
There’s nowhere Liberty doesn’t go with Robert. “She sleeps in my bed. She goes to the shower, the bathroom, movies; she’s always on duty. While in Mayport for the trials, she even went on a Naval ship; up and down the ladders. They’d never had a dog on the ship!”
A passion to see people live free.
The Florida panhandle, where Carrie and Robert live, is home to the country’s most dense population of veterans with PTSD and TBIs. It’s also home to the second-highest populous of active duty military. “We have a lot of service dogs in our area.” Carrie and Robert have been working passionately in the last year to make it easier for service members to get the right dog. They work closely with the Pawsitive Love Foundation, which works to provide individuals and families the gift of freedom of access, independence, and the ability to live the most normal life possible. “Currently veterans can get a prescription for a dog and they have no idea how to “cash it in”. We’d like to see it get much easier.”
Educate so we can integrate.
Robert and Carrie also helped to pass the Pawsitive Love Bill—a pilot high school program that introduces students to service dogs, teaches them why we have service dogs, why they’re important, and how to act around them. “Our goal is to bring it to the elementary level. There is such a need to educate kids. There is a ton of service dogs coming, vets can’t stay locked in their houses, losing themselves. If we don’t train the next generation how to act around the dogs and their handlers, there will be plenty of situations that won’t be good. We need to set these veterans and their dogs up for success in society.”
Pawsitive Love Foundation
You can make a difference! Become an advocate for the simple freedom you enjoy every day. It takes funding to transport, house, train, support service dogs and their handlers. Share our mission with your friends! pawsitivelovefoundation.org