While military working dogs are busy keeping our troops safe overseas, there are everyday pooches, cats and birds helping our veterans recovering from invisible wounds.
Companions for Heroes, a Virginia-based nonprofit, works to rescue companion animals that might otherwise be euthanized from shelters and places them with active-duty troops or veterans that could use a furry or feathery ear.
The organization was David Sharpe’s brainchild, though he would tell you it was, at least in part, Cheyenne’s idea. Cheyenne is Sharpe’s pit bull.
Originally from Georgia, Sharpe
served with the Air Force Security Forces in
Afghanistan. During his first deployment, a Taliban sympathizer pointed his weapon at Sharpe’s face during an Entry Control Point Check. The incident stayed with him when he came home and caused him to lash out. Eight years later, in 2009, he was diagnosed with PTSD.
Shortly after his diagnosis and adoption of Cheyenne, he had a PTSD-induced outburst. It was the puppy’s reaction—a quizzical look and a wagging tail—that made him realized she would listen. Then the magnitude of what happened hit him. The dog kept him from taking his own life.
It was October 2009 when Sharpe set out to help other veterans like him find help in a fur coat.
“The way I look at it, working with Companions for Heroes, I’m basically saving two lives—one the dog, and then the other, you know, the hero,” said David Jurado, who is an adoptions manager for the organization, a veteran and a Companions for Heroes client.
Willet, a Lab mix named for one of Jurado’s buddies who was killed in Iraq, helps him deal with his PTSD, perhaps keeping him from becoming a part of the statistics he quoted from memory: Every eight seconds a dog is euthanized and every hour a veteran commits suicide—22 a day. Two lives saved at once is a good start to saving hundreds, even thousands, of lives.
Working with organizations around the country, Companions for Heroes pays for adoptions and provides some financial support to help the new pet parent get off to a good start caring for their companion.
Organizations like Please Find My Dog, a division of the Atlanta-based Dog Scene International LLC, help, too. “We are a for-profit company that makes money selling Please Find My Dog memberships,” said founder Will Chase. “A portion of those funds goes toward helping veterans get their therapy or service dog.”
Chase served in the Army between 1985 and 1993 and comes from a family with deep military roots. He understands what veterans go through. He also has a soft spot for dogs and a faith in a greater plan.
“I believe there is no waste in God’s economy. The 4 million dogs that are euthanized yearly are a perfect match for a veteran with PTSD who feels they are left without options,” he said. “The number of veterans who commit suicide breaks my heart and I wish more would seek help.”
For more information about Companions for Heroes, go to companionsforheroes.org
Samantha L. Quigley is the editor in chief of ON★PATROL.