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Film about Chesapeake veteran and his service dogs set to debut this month

Virginian-Pilot - 1/10/2019

Jan. 10--CHESAPEAKE -- Toby Yarbrough and Duke have been inseparable for 14 years.

The Chesapeake resident and Army veteran bought the German shepherd as a puppy and had him trained to be his service dog.

Yarbrough has post-traumatic stress disorder and gets seizures as a result of a brain injury he sustained while serving overseas in the early 2000s. He credits Duke as a lifesaver.

A movie called "The Quiet Healing," based on a self-published book about Yarbrough's life with Duke and his other service dog, Sasha, premieres next week in Virginia Beach.

But one of its stars won't be walking the red carpet.

Duke died June 5 after a sudden medical emergency, according to Yarbrough.

The Pilot first profiled Yarbrough and Duke in May 2017 when the German shepherd was a competitor in the American Humane Hero Dog Awards. Yarbrough and three local filmmakers -- Andrew Lauto, Jacob Woodward and Dave Alegre -- talked about their movie-making plans a few months later.

They expected to produce a short film. Instead, it evolved into a full-length, hour-plus-long documentary, according to Lauto and Woodward, shot mostly on weekends and weekday evenings in order to accommodate everyone's full-time jobs.

It was a passion project, they said, paid for mostly out of pocket and through sponsorships. Freelancers provided animation and music for the film, and a GoFundMe is still active with hopes of drumming up support to take "The Quiet Healing" to festivals.

"I'm glad that God brought this opportunity into our lives," said Lauto, the film's director.

Yarbrough's life and his relationship with Duke and Sasha, a former rescue dog whom he had trained to fill in for the old shepherd, provides the "spine and the narrative" of the film, said Woodward, the documentary's editor.

Lauto called the movie a living testimony.

A doctor told Yarbrough he'd need a service dog after being injured in a heavy equipment accident while on deployment in 2002. According to Yarbrough, he broke his back in three places and sustained a traumatic brain injury.

He went from a wheelchair to walking again, but has had seizures and crippling migraines. He got Duke in 2004, he said, and Sasha in 2016. Yarbrough has said if not for Duke, he likely would've committed suicide. He has written and self-published two books about his experience and his service dogs.

"The fact that Toby was willing to get on camera and be completely vulnerable about his story and show those tears and show those emotions really shows how much he loves what he does and how much he loves his service dogs," Lauto said.

Yarbrough's family members also appear in the film, as do other local veterans and their service dogs, the filmmakers said. Alternative therapies, such as Yarbrough's use of a hyperbaric oxygen chamber are explored as well.

Faith plays a role, the filmmakers said, but they believe the movie has broad appeal. They hope it will help raise awareness of the benefit of service dogs for veterans in need, they said.

"We really do want this to be able to reach a wide audience and be able to help people in as many ways as it can," Woodward said. "If the faith element is one of those ways ... then, by golly, that's awesome."

Filming wrapped in December, the filmmakers said, and final tweaks are under way. Given Duke's advanced age, they knew losing him before the movie's completion was a possibility, but his death came as a shock nonetheless.

According to Yarbrough, Duke's medical emergency happened after eating a meal.

"Somehow his stomach just flipped," Yarbrough said. Vets told Yarbrough the old dog was unlikely to survive surgery, he said, and if Duke lived, his long-term prognosis was poor.

Unwilling to let Duke suffer, Yarbrough chose to have him euthanized.

"It was very hard on me to lose my baby," Yarbrough said, adding that Sasha was beside him when it happened. She put her head in his lap as though to say, "I'm here. I've got the reins. I want to take care of you."

"And she has," he added.

When "The Quiet Healing" debuts, Sasha will escort Yarbrough down the red carpet.

But Duke, Yarbrough said, will be there in spirit.

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