BRUNSWICK, Ga. (WSAV) – The Georgia coast is home to an organization connecting military families with special dogs, trained to meet their needs.
Companions for Heroes is the group that gives these dogs away at no cost. Their mission has two goals. Founder and Chief Executive Officer, David Sharpe, says the first is to rescue every dog in every shelter in the country.
“And it’s also to heal these men and women who are dealing with the psychological traumas they endured in service to our country,” Sharpe added. “So that’s active duty members getting companion dogs to help them now. Very hard to get a service dog while you’re on active duty. And it’s also to get service dogs for veterans, gold star families, and first responders nationwide.”
The organization was born when Sharpe nearly died by his own hand, as he sought to escape survivor’s guilt attached to his service in war zones and living in the aftermath of suicides among men he served with.
“I took a .45 pistol and before I even considered doing anything I pushed my little, I believe she was four or five months old at the time, pitbull named Cheyenne, and latched the door closed and then I charged the weapon, and I put the barrel in my mouth,” Sharpe said.
“As I was squeezing the trigger with my thumb…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,” Sharpe said, adding he never looked back.
The rescue dogs and service members are connected through online applications, but it’s not just veterans. Active service, their spouse and families, gold star families and even first responders can apply for a service or companion dog.
“And if they’re approved and they don’t have a dog, they go to their local shelter-rescue or Humane Society, adopt that dog, immediately get the dog evaluated by a certified trainer,” Sharpe explained. “Our team will help find that trainer for them, the dog passes that evaluation. Then they keep the dog for two weeks to settle in, establish a bond, and after those two weeks we’ll follow up with them and then we go ahead and reimburse them for the full amount of that adoption fee up to $500 dollars and then we start putting them into a training system and we pay for the entire training process as well.”
There’s a growing number of women turning to Companions for Heroes to help cope. Sharpe explains a big motive behind the trend.
“Military sexual trauma, they call it. So three in five women who served in the military have some type of sexual harassment, some type of sexual assault that occurs, three out of five, and we’re tackling that issue the best way we can right now…with providing dogs,” said Sharpe, adding, “Even Gold Star wives are committing suicide too.”
The organization is lean, using only .14 cents of every dollar to pay for staff and administrative costs.
“Eighty-six cents of every dollar goes directly into the program,” Sharpe said.
Companions for Heroes’ website says the group’s vision is to help every American Hero and save every shelter or rescue animal from euthanasia. The website defines the mission as
Companions for Heroes (C4H) provides companion dogs, and on a case-by-case basis, service dogs, obtained from shelters, rescues and humane societies, who might otherwise be euthanized, free of charge to active-duty military personnel, military veterans, first responders, military spouses and children, and Gold Star Families recovering from the psychological challenges they suffered during service to our country. C4H increases public awareness of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI) and other challenges confronting our country’s heroes; and rally’s support for animal welfare and the adoption of shelter and/or rescue animals.
C4H is a non-clinical and non-facility based organization that places special emphasis on creating mutually beneficial opportunities for shelter and rescue animals, some who might otherwise be euthanized, and our nation’s servicemen and women by accessing the expertise of medical care professionals and animal welfare organizations. C4H is an Animal Assisted Activity (AAA) program that recognizes the incredible power of the human-animal relationship and seeks to support those suffering from psychological stress as they pursue recovery with the unconditional love of a dog. C4H (Companions For Heroes) is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. “