This is a story about the local girl, the Iraq war veteran and the injured dog and how a community has rallied around all three.
The story begins on April 28, when Granby resident Taylor Verbridge, a 2011 graduate of Granby Memorial High, was riding a quad during a bonfire party in Hartland.
Enter Gunner, a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois, who is owned by Nate Larabee of Southwick, MA. Larabee is a Marine who served two tours of duty in Fallujah, Iraq before he was discharged in 2005 after having earned the rank of corporal.
Gunner was chasing Verbidge’s quad when he ran in front of the vehicle and was subsequently struck, sustaining serious injuries, including a broken back, bruised spinal cord, a punctured lung and swelling of the brain.
Verbidge, a self-proclaimed lover of animals, was immediately distraught.
“I jumped off the quad before it stopped,” Verbridge said.
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Verbidge accompanied Larabee and a friend to the Tufts New England Veterinary Center in North Grafton, MA.
“That meant a lot and showed what kind of a person she is,” said Larabee, noting that there were absolutely no hard feelings about what’s happened. They both sat down with The Granbys Patch for an interview Wednesday afternoon at .
So far, Gunner, who is trained as a protection dog, has healed remarkably well, as the swelling in his brain has gone down and his punctured lung has been repaired.
“His drive helps him a lot, along with his personality,” Larabee said. “He’s got a great personality. He loves everybody. He’s helped me through a lot.”
Indeed, Larabee said that, as a war veteran, he confides in Gunner. So much so that Larabee refers to Gunner as his best friend.
“He’s my son,” said Larabee, noting the difficulty he’s had seeing his dog hurt so badly. “It’s hard. Real hard. When I first brought him to the hospital, I lost it. I’m not an emotional guy.”
But while Gunner has made significant strides in his recovery - he walked without assistance the other day, though with a noticeable limp as his left hind leg is virtually immobile - he still has a long way to go.
Larabee said that, to avoid risky surgery, Gunner is facing spending the next three months in a cage for 23 ½ hours a day.
“It’s all up in the air right now,” said Verbidge. “It depends on how his nerves and tendons heal. If there is sudden movement, then he’ll have to go into surgery, which the doctors say is risky right now.”
Still, even without the surgery, Gunner’s medical bills are already in the thousands of dollars.
“He’s on a full medicinal regimen,” Larabee said. “He’s under sedation because of his high drive.”
All of which can get pricey for two students: Larabee is a student at Westfield State in Massachusetts, while Verbridge is enrolled at the University of Hartford.
So Verbidge, who, while volunteering for her church in Appalachia, nearly adopted two malnourished dogs, decided to do something about it.
She’s organized a dog wash and bake sale that’s set to take place Saturday, May 5, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at , 15 Mill Pond Road, Granby. The cost of the dog wash is $25.
“What she’s doing is above and beyond what I’ve expected,” Larabee said of his new friend (he did not know Verbidge prior to last weekend).
But that’s not all. It seems as though the entire community has rallied around Gunner and Larabee. With no fewer than four businesses - , , and Bandits Place - also raising funds, the community has been recognized by the Huffington Post for its committment to helping Larabee and Gunner.
A donation page, which can be found here, has also been set up in Gunner’s name. The goal is $5,000; as of 12 a.m. Thursday, the fund has raised $290.
All of the efforts have floored Larabee.
“It’s gone a lot further than I expected,” said Larabee, a house of a man who looked like he was on the verge of tears, said. “I’m grateful for that. It’s pretty touching. … No words can describe it.”