The Brightest Light, Out of Darkness

[Trigger warning for trauma and self-harm.]

I have written before about what it means to me to be a survivor who has rescued a dog who is also a survivor, so it will probably come as no surprise that my heart has been utterly melted into a huge gooey puddle over this story about an air force veteran with PTSD who sought out a fighting dog as a companion for his anger, but found unconditional love and healing instead—and then went on to found an org dedicated to pairing other vets and dogs who have survived trauma. Megablub.

[Transcript below. Video via Time.]
David Sharpe, USAF veteran and founder of Pets to Vets: [over images of Sharpe playing with Cheyenne, a brown and white pitbull, and another dog] Cheyenne is my savior. She's the love of my life. She has always been there for me through thick and thin. My name is David Sharpe, and I served for six years in the United States Air Force, Security Forces.

[over images of Sharpe in the military, seguing into video of Sharpe playing with Cheyenne, then to footage of Sharpe talking directly into the camera] It all started after 9/11, when we got forward deployed again, to Uzbekistan, and a couple of our buddies didn't make it back, and so, I came back finally in March of 2002, and I pretty much segregated myself from my family and friends. My friends—we would go out, and they would say, "Hey, Dave, do you want a beer?" I'm like, "No, I'm gonna cruise around this bar," and the first guy who looks at me longer than two seconds, I'm gonna pop him. They said, "We can't hang out with you anymore, Dave; you're out of control." And I was like, "Fine, I don't need you anyway."

[over images of Sharpe walking through a shelter, interspersed with footage of Sharpe speaking to camera] So, my friend came over, and he said, "Let's check out this pitbull rescue." I said, "Hell, yeah—I'm a fighter; I want a fighting dog." I go down there, and there's this one puppy that's not paying me any mind, but all the others are all around me. And then I remember, she came over to me and she licked my hand, sniffed it, and then left. And then she just laid back down in the dirt in the opposite side of that pen, and I said, "I'm gonna get her."

[to dog, who's off-screen] Cheyenne, you remember that? Come here. Come here. You bum! You're a bum. You are a bum. [leans down and picks her up, holds her and cuddles her like a baby] She's a baby. This is a baby! Big baby. This is her.

[over images of Sharpe and Cheyenne playing on the bed] I brought her home, and, a couple weeks later, she witnessed me punching holes in the walls and beating up the refrigerator door—and this was normal for me during this time. I see this little tail, out of the corner of my eye, and I look down at her, and she's looking at me [cocks head back and forth like a curious dog], you know, doing this, waving her head back and forth, and I looked down at her, and I just picked her up, and took her back to my bed, and just started crying, and talking about everything that had happened—what I experienced, what I'm going through. And [deep sigh] it felt like a ten thousand pound weight was lifted off my chest. It literally did.

Staff Sergeant Bradley Fasnacht, who has been diagnosed with PTSD and traumatic brain injury: [over images of him with his dog, Zapper, a multi-colored blue heeler mix] When I first got back from my deployment, I remember we were sitting at a coffee shop, and I just felt like everything was closing in on me, and I just wheeled myself out of the coffee shop as soon as possible, and I just sat back and waited for it to blow up—I was having flashbacks, just, it was crazy.

I ended up picking up Zapper from the P2V foundation. There's, uh, there's certain things that, you know, I only talk to Zapper about. Not that I don't think my family understands or want to hear—it's just that, you know, you always have that thing, "Will they judge me over this or not?" You know, you just really don't want to tell your story to just anybody— You got these doctors who, you know, they've heard it; but they haven't seen it. You know, so you just talk to your dog, man. Talk to Zapper. He just lets me get it off my chest and lets me get it out there.

Sharpe: [over images of veterans and dogs] Eighteen veterans commit suicide, each day in this country. Eighteen. Also on the other end of this spectrum, there's four million animals, sheltered animals, killed in this country every year. So that's what we do. We take four million, and we pair 'em up with the 6,500 per year—it's kind of like a between a shelter pet and a veteran or emergency first responder.

[over images of a scarred pitbull puppy] This little guy was used for fighting—he was a toy for other dogs to beat up on. And they don't have a choice. [getting choked up while looking down at dog, who is looking back up at him] Sorry. What better companion to have than a veteran, like us, or a firefighter or police officer, to help this little guy out, right? [sniffs] He has the physical scars on the outside, but we have the mental scars on the inside, so that's where we heal each other and meet in the middle of the road, you know?

[over images of him wrasslin' with Cheyenne at home, and then of Cheyenne licking his face, and then the two of them cuddling] I can share anything and everything with her—unconditional love. And so, really, like, I got a good family that loves me, friends that love me, and I got her.

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