BRUNSWICK, Ga. (WSAV) – There are a lot of veterans dealing with mental scars after returning from war zones.
Virtually all who live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) qualify for free service or companion dogs through Companions for Heroes. It’s a non-profit organization based in Glynn County that not only helps service members — they also provide the dogs for military families, Gold Star Families and first responders.
It’s not just service members who are rescued, the dogs are rescued from shelters and trained to become service or companion dogs.
U.S. Army veteran Josh Polley says he was not a dog person, but he quickly learned the healing power of his pooch when he met his rescue dog, Geri.
The blue tick hound/mastiff mix, he says, made him a believer.
“She instantly took to me,” he said. “I was not a dog person. I was not really the guy that would go get a dog, but she kind of picked me more than necessarily me picking her.”
Polley served with the military police in Afghanistan, enlisting after graduation less than a year after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. He says he received a Purple Heart after his Humvee was blown up by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in 2006.
Polley is haunted by his experience, living with night terrors since his return home after servicing in the war zone.
“Extremely vivid dreams that you feel like you can’t get out of that, you know, are just maybe somewhat violent in nature. Not necessarily a recreation…but sometimes it is,” he explained.
“I would be prone to act those out, so obviously it was best to kind of isolate myself in a room away from anyone else so that no one got hurt in the night,” Polley added.
Geri helps Polley deal with anxiety and the stress of being around groups of people. But Polley says, more importantly, his service dog helps with the night terrors, too.
“I definitely don’t dream nearly as frequently as I used to,” he said. “I’m able to be in the bed with my wife. I’m able to take naps with my kids…and on the occasion I do start to have a dream, I get a big wet tongue on the side of my face until I wake up from it.”
David Sharpe started Companions for Heroes 10 years ago after his own war experience took him to the brink of suicide.
Sharpe says his rescue dog Cheyenne rescued him moments before he pulled the trigger.
“That little rescue pitbull walked through that door and licked my face right here and that distracted me and I remember taking the barrel out of my mouth and placing it in my lap. She sat down on top of the pistol,” he said.
Since that day in 2009, Sharpe says he’s been on a mission to help people in his position.
“It’s also to heal these men and women who are dealing with the psychological traumas they endured in service to our country,” he added.
Companions for Heroes has saved more than 4,000 dogs and people in the last decade, Sharpe said.
Polley, who owns a small business, says he is not the only veteran to benefit from Geri’s gift.
“Ninety percent of our employees here in Savannah are veterans and almost all of them are combat veterans,” he explained, adding, “There are often times where she’s really the service dog for the entire office.
“…If a guy’s having a rough day or they come off a stressful job, they come in, they pet on Geri and love on her and they kinda go out with a smile on their face.”
To learn more about Companions for Heroes, visit here.