War veterans find peace of mind with pets

For too many veterans, the battles don't end when they come home from war. Combat stress has no easy cure. But one vet found peace was a lot closer than he thought and now he's helping others find it, too. CBS News correspondent Chip Reid has his story.

Dave Sharpe calls his pit bull Cheyenne his savior, and that's no exaggeration. When she was just a puppy, she saved his life

Sharpe served with the U.S. Air Force security forces in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. After two near-death experiences, he returned home with severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Before I met her, I was a wreck," said Sharpe. "I was out of control, I would start fights for no reason."

Deeply depressed and filled with rage, he decided to end his misery with his pistol.

"[I] cocked it back, put it right in my mouth and I sat there and cried for about a minute or two," Sharpe recalled. "I was this close to pulling the trigger."

That's when Cheyenne, who was then six months old, came to his rescue.

"She came up behind me and she licked my ear, said Sharpe. "And she gave me this look of, 'What are you doing man, who's going to let me sleep in your bed? Listen, if you take care of me, I'll take care of you.'"

Sharpe realized at that moment he had something to live for. But he didn't stop there, as he decided that what saved him might save others like him

Dave Sharpe and his dog Cheyenne pose during the 2nd Annual White House Pet Correspondents benefit at Art and Soul's Pooch Patio, April 28, 2011, in Washington, DC.
Kris Connor/Getty Images
So he started Pets2Vets, now known as P2V, an organization that has put dozens injured veterans together with their own four-legged saviors -- dogs and cats. P2V makes sure it's a good match, provides training, even pays for the pet's health insurance.

The pets come from a shelter in Washington, D.C., so the rescuing goes both ways. Veterans get a desperately needed companion and some of these guys get a new lease on life.

Marine Sergeant Jimmy Childers lost a leg to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan that also caused traumatic brain injury. He was prone to angry outbursts -- until P2V paired him with Tidus

"Just his look gives me all the answers that I want to calm me down," said Childers.

Childers looked into getting a trained service dog, but was told it would take more than a year. Anyway he says, that's not what he needed. "I don't need a dog to grab my prosthetic leg. I don't need that."

But Tidus gives him what he does need. "He gives me back unconditional love, no judgment," said Childers.

Sharpe said the demand is never-ending on both sides

"There's 18 veterans that commit suicide every day in this country," he said, "and one animal is put to sleep every eight seconds."

Dave Sharpe puts the two together to save each others' lives

For information on P2V, click here to visit their website.

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.

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