Local Charity Connects Rescue Dogs To Veterans

Program pairs shelter dogs with soldiers

As the old saying goes, “a dog is a man’s best friend.” The idiom rings particularly true when it comes to Shelter to Soldier, a local non–profit organization that rescues shelter dogs and trains them to be psychiatric service companions for wounded combat veterans. 

Shelter to Soldier is a unique organization because with one act of charity they save two lives. They train rescue dogs from shelters and match them to a veteran suffering from PTSD (post–traumatic stress disorder) or TBI (traumatic brain injury). Their mission: to provide a therapeutic service outlet for post–war victims. 

“We want to create awareness of PTSD and TBI by rescuing dogs to help veterans live a normal life. The dogs provide these men and women with love and support. We train them in specific tasks that help create comfort and make them feel safe,” says Shelter to Soldier founder Graham Bloem. 

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Shelter to Soldier began in 2012 when Bloem, who was inspired by his past dog training experience and his interactions with Marines, whose relationships with their dogs helped them maintain a sense of home during times of war. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, in the past year alone the number of diagnosed cases of PTSD in the military increased by 50%. Studies estimate that one in five military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from PTSD.

For medically retired Navy Veteran Vic Martin, his experience with Shelter to Solider was absolutely life changing. Having suffered from both PTSD, TBI and anxiety, Martin qualified for a service dog but the VA didn’t cover it and other organizations had already exceeded their budget. Thankfully, Martin’s wife discovered Shelter to Soldier. 

Martin graduated from the dog training program in November 2014 with his dog Kira. She had been in training for 10 months prior to their meeting, then they continued with 4 months of one–on–one training. The healing process began right away.

“I was scared to leave the house with a brain injury, PTSD, and anxiety; it was sheer terror. I was scared of the influence the people in the outside world had on my life. I was fragile. Shelter to Soldier was my last hope. I’m married with 3 children and I was scared to attend functions. It was heartbreaking for everyone,” said Martin.

“Shelter to Soldier is an amazing process and I noticed a difference in my life. I gained back normal confidence. I was excited to leave the house on my training days with Graham. It gave me something to aim for, great connection to give me enough smiles for the next week. It was powerful from the beginning. It’s unbelievable, how much has changed. I love Kira and she loves me. Shelter to Soldier gave me my life back. It gives veterans an amazing tool to help with this terror,” Martin continued.

Martin’s story is just one of many; Shelter to Soldier is changing the lives of countless local veterans and lovable dogs. Shelter to Soldier’s motto is saving lives two at a time and that is truly what they do. For more information and to support, contact Graham Bloem at graham@sheltertosoldier.org or call 855-CUS-TMK9 (855-287-8659).