Donors help raise $40,000 for service dog’s surgery

In January 2012, Sergeant Karl Holfe was medically discharged after serving two decades in the U.S. Air Force and the Army.

Jake, a 10-month-old Airedale Terrier, suffers from hip dysplasia. (Photo credit:

Memories of what happened during his three deployments to the Middle East came back to haunt him when he came back home, Sgt. Holfe explains. “I try to forget. It started back in Desert Storm. And then went to Enduring Freedom and then Iraqi Freedom,” Sgt. Holfe told NBC 9 News. “They are just, they’re bad,” the veteran says of the flashbacks he often experiences.

After visiting a doctor, Sgt. Holfe was diagnosed with severe anxiety, severe depression, and a near-crippling case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that made it hard for him to function. The illnesses started taking their toll on Sgt. Holfe’s family, too. “Having my husband come back from war and be a different person,” said. Sgt. Holfe’s wife, Sharon. “He wasn’t the same person. He wasn’t’ the same person that I fell in love with.”

Sgt. Holfe tried counseling and medication, but the problems still persisted. That’s when the Holfe family contacted a breeder in New Mexico who donates service dogs to military veterans in need.

When Sgt. Holfe met Jake, a 10-month-old Airedale Terrier, his symptoms immediately improved.

“It was like a new beginning,” Sharon says of her husband and his service dog, Jake. “This dog really helped [Karl] cope. Jake brought the joy back in our lives. We really needed that.”

But a few months ago, the Holfes noticed that Jake seemed to be in pain, especially when sitting down. When the family took Jake to the vet, x-rays confirmed that the pup was suffering from a severe case of hip dysplasia.

Sgt. Holfe was heartbroken at his dog’s grim diagnosis. “They were talking about either putting [Jake] down or getting his hips replaced,” he explained, a surgery that would cost the Holfe family at least $10,000 — money that they just can’t afford on their own. Sgt. Holfe has been looking for work since he returned home in January, and Sharon is recovering from a stroke. “Our savings has disappeared just to survive,” Sgt. Holfe said.

Desperate to save the life of the dog that saved her husband’s life, Sharon contacted NBC 9 News, who ran a story about Sgt. Holfe’s PTSD and Jake’s urgently-needed hip surgery earlier this week.

The response the Holfe family received was almost instant. A donation account that was completely empty Monday had swelled to nearly $40,000 by Tuesday evening, and thanks to an outpouring of support from people in 15 different states and Canada, Sgt. Holfe’s service dog will be able to have the surgery that he needs to survive.

Sgt. Holfe and Sharon have scheduled Jake’s hip surgery for next Saturday, when one hip will be replaced. The other hip will be operated on 30 days later.

“When he’s not suffering,” Sharon says of Jake, “we’re not going to suffer.”

And the good news for the Holfe family just keeps on coming; since the NBC 9 News story aired, at least two potential employers have contacted Sgt. Holfe about a job, and a landlord has offered the family a more affordable apartment closer to their daughter Faith’s school.

As for the likely thousands of dollars that will be left over after Jake’s surgery, Sgt. Holfe hopes to start a fund to help other veterans and their service dogs.

If you would like to make a donation to Jake and to the Holfe family, a PayPal account has been set up in their name.