NEWBURY — Donald Jarvis considers himself a “glass half full” kind of guy.
Jarvis, a Massachusetts Army National Guard veteran, has volunteered much of his time and energy since returning from deployment to helping struggling veterans find the resources and friendly hands needed to help lift them back up.
As someone who faced physical challenges and mental distress when he came home after years at war, Jarvis understands what a difference this kind of information and compassion can make.
But recently, most of Jarvis’ volunteer work had to take a back seat as physical and mental issues related to injuries he suffered during his tours in Afghanistan and Iraq resurfaced and began dominating his life — requiring six visits to the emergency room this year and forcing him to cut back on his community service and spend more time at home.
“It wasn’t easy and it was very restrictive,” Jarvis said.
To help him keep busy and stay positive, Jarvis began jotting down the story of his service dog, Mocha, as a project for his 10-year-old niece and 5-year-old nephew. It was therapy of sorts for the veteran, who developed some debilitating symptoms.
Eventually, his story became “Mocha, The Superhero Service Dog,” a small chapter book Jarvis published on Amazon under his newly established label, JarviScript Books.
The book, which sells for $12.99, includes colorful illustrations created by a freelance artist and college student who took on the assignment as a way to expand his portfolio.
Jarvis’ friends, Salvatore and Dana DeFranco, owners of Battle Grounds Coffee Co. at 39 Washington St. in Haverhill, are hosting a book signing for him on Saturday from 9 to 11 a.m.
Copies of the book will be available for purchase and people who have already bought it can bring in their copy to have it signed. The main character will be there to “sign” the book along with Jarvis. Small, plush replicas of Mocha, a black Lab mix, will also soon be available.
The story — narrated by Mocha — traces his journey from the streets to a dog rescue training team known as Operation Delta Dog and eventually into Jarvis’ home and heart.
Jarvis cites his pooch’s unquestioned support, strength and unconditional love as characteristics that make him such an excellent service dog.
“To call him a superhero only seems fitting. He quite frankly saved my life,” Jarvis said.
Jarvis served seven years in the military as a combat engineer in counter-IED warfare, or detection of improvised explosive devices. He was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and operated a mine-protected vehicle known as a Buffalo, and, at times, controlled its hydraulic arm.
One day in Afghanistan, Jarvis’ vehicle was struck by an IED. He suffered a traumatic brain injury along with post-traumatic stress disorder. Jarvis spent months receiving treatment at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in Virginia.
Even after returning home, the impact continued to affect his daily life. He had trouble connecting with people, and suffered from depression and substance abuse.
Before he was adopted by Jarvis, Mocha was also grappling with life’s challenges. Abandoned on the streets of the big city, he was a sick, lonely, hungry pup.
When the two found each other through Operation Delta Dog in Chelmsford, Jarvis says it was clear they were meant to be together.
“From the second I first met him, it was love at first sight,” he recalls. After a couple of what Jarvis describes as “blind dates” — the two spent time getting acquainted at a friend’s house and met again for some outside fun at Maudslay State Park in Newburyport. They embarked on a yearlong training program designed to teach the dog how to work effectively as a service animal.
In simple, easy-to-understand text, Jarvis documents their journey to rescue each other. In the book, Mocha describes how he helps Jarvis when he is “sad and worried especially when there were too many people around ... I learned to sit between him and people.”
He also helps during the times when Jarvis has night terrors: “I would lick his face and poke him until he stopped,” Mocha explains.
“There are a lot of people who need the help of service dogs like me,” Mocha states in the book. “Many of them are veterans who worked in the Army but could not make any friends or be happy when they came home. Sometimes they are sick or alone, like I was.”
The Newbury veteran says his niece and nephew are “beyond excited” with the publication and their uncle’s upcoming book signing. There’s one lesson Jarvis hopes the story conveys to them and to others who read the book.
“No matter how bad the struggles are, never give up,” he said. “There are people who care and who are willing to help you work through whatever it is you are facing.”