Participant Spotlight on… David Sharpe
EBV-SU 2017 welcomed aspiring veteran entrepreneurs to the Syracuse University campus. Each one came with a unique story to tell. Here’s one of them. Meet David Sharpe.
David Sharpe, a 6th generation veteran, was just 21 years old when two men in his unit committed suicide.
He was in the Air Force security forces, and these men were his brothers in arms. One of them had been recently married and had a one-year-old daughter.
“When his wife came back from her time to grieve – she was in our unit as well – it was devastating,” he said. “I really witnessed the trials and tribulations of what a spouse goes through… I thought that it should have been me, not him.”
Sharpe found himself in a spiral of PTSD and survivor’s guilt, though he wasn’t able to find adequate treatment for either.
He would go out to bars and try to start fights with strangers, then he started abusing alcohol. He frequently fell into deep bouts of depression and questioned his faith in God. The situation got worse and worse.
Soon, a friend asked if he would go with him to a pit bull rescue. Sharpe agreed to go, and even decided he would adopt one of the dogs himself.
“I said, ‘I’m a fighting guy – I want a fighting dog,’” Sharpe said.
There were eight puppies, all rescued from a local dog fighting ring. One of them, a little five-month-old girl, paid him no attention. That was the one he adopted.
He named her Cheyenne.
“I brought her home and immediately felt some type of different tranquility in my life. I just couldn’t quite understand what it was,” he said.
Unfortunately, that tranquility didn’t completely stop to his symptoms.
One day, it all got to be too much.
“I finished off a bottle of Jack in one day – Jack Daniels. And I went to my bedroom and cried for a little bit, with the door slightly open. I reached in my top drawer and I charged my .45 pistol, and I put in in my mouth and I cried for about two minutes, looking at the wall.”
Cheyenne snuck in the room, moving right up behind Sharpe.
He started to squeeze the trigger.
Cheyenne wouldn’t let him.
“She started licking the tears off my face… I laughed – it distracted me. I took the pistol out of my mouth and laid it in my lap in my hand, and she flopped down on top of my hand,” he said.
She’d saved him.
One month later, though, Sharpe found himself in that same spiral. This time, he shut and latched the door. He had to push Cheyenne out.
He tasted the metallic rust of the same .45 pistol that his father used in ranger school back in 1966.
He was ready to pull the trigger.
“She busted right through the door,” he said.
Cheyenne looked at him with an understanding in her eyes, and a question – who will take care of me if you’re gone?
“That was where God gave me an angel,” he said. “He gives them to us in many shapes and forms, and at that time in my life, it was my dog. So I said, ‘okay, this happened not once but twice – I’m done.’”
Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day. One shelter dog is euthanized every eight seconds. Sharpe’s new mission – pair the two together, and let them save each other.
He was watching an NBC documentary on service dogs when he learned how long it took to connect the veterans and dogs, and how costly the whole process was for the veteran. He also learned that the systems in place only focus on physically disabled veterans, not those with service-related mental illnesses.
Sharpe founded Companions for Heroes to address these problems.
Companions for Heroes connects veterans with shelter dogs, and Sharpe’s latest venture, STAX Solutions, connects them with capable mental health professionals.
Companions for Heroes reimburses all of the adoption fees, offers free training classes, and provides the veteran with a gift card to either PetSmart or Petco for supplies. The veteran even gets to choose the dog (or cat) – something that Sharpe finds paramount.
“When you get out of the military,” he said, “you’re on your own. You’re always used to being told what to do – you have orders. When you get out, you don’t know how to order yourself sometimes. When these veterans show their dogs off to their friends or family, and they hear, ‘wow, that’s a really good looking dog, who chose the dog?’ they can say, ‘well, I did.’ And their friends will say, ‘man, that’s a really good looking dog. Wish I had a dog like that.’”
Those interactions help build the veterans’ confidence, Sharpe says. Positive feedback because of the dogs helps them feel more comfortable transitioning back into every day life. It gives them a purpose, just like Cheyenne gave Sharpe a purpose.
For more information on how you can help, visit http://companionsforheroes.org/.