Walking into the office of John LaBarge, the owner and founder of JP’s Junk Removal in North Las Vegas, you are immediately greeted by a very friendly face.
“He’s just a lover. He loves everyone. Me, kids, other dogs,” said LaBarge, who is describing “Reaper,” his two and half-year-old Belgian Malinois, a support dog that’s been with him for over a year. Reaper helps LaBarge cope with post-traumatic stress disorder [or PTSD] stemming from his years in the military and law enforcement.
“There was obviously a lot of trauma, so having Reaper with me 24/7 is necessary,” said LaBarge. “He calms me down a lot. My stress and anxiety go up without him.”
LaBarge served in the US Army from 1995 to 2005, both domestically and overseas. He said while there were some very difficult times he went through on the frontline, there were also positive and life-changing experiences as well. One example was when he was part of a small number of US troops sent to Latvia and its surrounding countries in the mid-1990s to help train the local military. LaBarge said his contention helped lay the groundwork needed for these Eastern European nations to join NATO a few years later.
“Going to Latvia and the impact it had on that country and the people there was just amazing,” said LaBarge. “A buddy of mine who was stationed in Afghanistan recently told me that he felt everything he did was just flushed down the toilet because of what happened with the US pullout. But he said at least what I got to do in Latvia had a positive impact on a global scale. It’s a good feeling.”
After serving in the military, LaBarge went back to his home state of Michigan and served two years with the local sheriff’s department. Upon leaving that position, he spent some time living in different places around the country before ending up in Portland, Oregon where he started his business, “JP’s Junk Removal,” in 2010.
LaBarge said work was good in the Pacific Northwest for a while, but the increasing rules and regulations in that state made it harder over time to run his business. And working in the rain six months out of the year also got old. So, he decided to relocate to Las Vegas about five years ago and said it’s been one of the best moves, professionally and personally.
“This city is really ideal for what we do and our business. In a way, our work is recession-proof. Whether the economy is good or bad, we do well and stay busy.”
Since moving to the valley, LaBarge said the company has nearly tripled in business. Today he employs about ten employees with three trucks in operation, with three more coming by the end of the year.
But as with any business, the day-to-day grind of running a company can take a toll, and it can be especially taxing for someone like LaBarge, who’s already battling PTSD. But this 47-year-old husband and father said he wouldn’t change anything from his past because it made him who he is today.
“There are people who used what happened to them in life as an excuse to fail. I used it as a reason to succeed,” said LaBarge. “And I believe the reason we got to where we are was because of the level of professionalism and service that we provide. The best compliment that we have gotten was when customers thought we were a franchise. And it’s because we operate like one."
JP’s Junk Removal offers a variety of services from furniture and appliance removals to clean-outs and power washing. And LaBarge and his team work with clients in neighborhoods all over Southern Nevada, including active-duty military members and veterans.
“I definitely reached out to them, and many of them have contacted us because they want to work with a veteran-owned business. It means something to them, and I am really proud of what we do.”
LaBarge also credits his family, including his support dogs, for always being there for him. Before Reaper, LaBarge had a German Shepherd who was put down after she was hit by a car. Reaper is the latest addition to the family, which includes LaBarge's four older children, ages 27, 25, 14, and 12. But soon, Reaper will no longer be the “baby” of the bunch. LaBarge and his wife (whom he met after moving to Las Vegas and whom he describes as an incredible stepmother to his four older children) are expecting a little one this November, fitting with Veteran’s Day approaching.
“We are having a little girl, and we couldn’t be more thankful.”