HERO CENTRAL: Companions For Heroes Saves Two Lives At Once | Pets
WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) --- Military personnel are committing suicide at an alarming rate. In fact, their death numbers are higher than service personnel who die in combat, according to the Associated Press.
Four years ago, a non-profit organization was established to fight against suicide by people suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
"Unconditional love. It doesn't answer. I could tell him anything. I don't have to worry about it being repeated. It's love and it's kind," U.S. Army veteran Raymond Crook describes his best friend, Meyer, a puppy from the local animal shelter.
When Crook left the military after serving in the Cold War, he developed PTSD. Eventually he wanted to commit suicide.
In 2009 he learned about Companions for Heroes, a non-profit organization that led him to Meyer, an Akita-Shepherd mix puppy.
"I'd been in school and served in the military. But there was a dark side of me that no one could touch. I wouldn't't let anyone in," said Crook.
But Meyer has made a breakthrough. Bonding with Meyer helps to heal Crook from his psychological traumas.
"Here's an animal that's lonely and needs love. And here's a veteran that's lonely and needs love. And truly it's God-sent. And what happens is that you learn to love again," said Crook.
Companions for Heroes (C4H) matches shelter animals with veterans, active military and first responders. There have been 149 matches nation-wide thus far.
"It's the best work I have ever done in my entire life," said Lynne Gartenhaus, the executive director of C4H.
"It's a completion of everything I've ever done because what you are doing is saving two lives at once."
Interested clients start with C4H by applying online. The prospective pet owner works with adoption counselors to find the compatible pet within the local animal shelters.
Companions for Heroes reimburses the pet adoption fees. The new owner also gets a year-long pet health insurance provided by C4H. In addition, the pet owner has access to a professional dog trainer who may address any behavior issues or train the pet for additional skills.
"Our founder, David Sharpe, has such a wonderful idea from his own experience to pair veterans and sheltered pets for mutual healing. And the thing is that it works. Animals really are magic," said Gartenhaus.
David Sharpe launched C4H after leaving the U.S. Air Force and suffered from PTSD.
Sharpe's loved ones gave him a puppy, Cheyenne, who would come to his rescue.
"There was a time when I wanted to take my own life. And she walked in, the little puppy that she then was. She walked in and licked my face."
Sharpe's near-death experience spurred him to create the non-profit organization. He shared his personal story to other veterans including Crook.
"Still wasn't able to put all the pieces together, when I met David. I was like, if it worked for him, it'll work for me," Crook explained.
Today, Meyer not only touches Crook's life, but he is an important part of the family.
"My father hated dogs. But he loves Meyer. And even when I had to work, Meyer was still there. So Meyer's been there for my granddaughter['s birth]. Now the next girl is born. I have two granddaughters now, since Meyer has been around. My grandson adores him."
NOTE: Gannett Foundation has provided a grant for Companions for Heroes.
Produced/Written by: Elizabeth Jia
WUSA 9 & WUSA9.com