Shelter to Soldier: Saving Lives, Two Hearts at a Time

Spring Xposure Funded Shelter to Soldier Pooch Finally Graduates

Ricky and Plato of Shelter to Soldier

Photo by Shelter to Soldier

Last year, FINE magazine's Spring Xposure Fashion Show raised enough money to help fund the Shelter to Soldier program, where rescued animals get paired with a veteran from the United States Marine Corps. The Shelter to Soldier program assists the pair in learning to work together for their five months of service training. Shelter to Soldier is the 2016 beneficiary for The Spring Xposure Fashion show, who helped make the nonprofit organization have a successful training process and graduation for veteran Ricky and his new dog Plato. 

Shelter to Soldier is a nonprofit organization that rescues dogs from an uncertain future in local shelters and trains them to become psychiatric service dogs for post 9/11 combat veterans. Most of the soldiers they help suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other psychological injuries associated with traumatic service experiences. Statistics show that every thirteen seconds an animal gets euthanized, and every sixty-three minutes a veteran hurts themselves because of these psychological injuries. Suicide rates amongst the nation's military personnel spiked this year, which is eclipsing the number of troops dying in battle. PTSD is a problem for the men and women in uniform and its effects last beyond the battlefield. 

Instead of doing nothing about this, founder Graham Bloem decided to pair together veterans and shelter dogs in order to save both of them, giving both these dogs and the veterans a purpose. Bloem started training dogs for service-related work for over a decade, and he decided to use his skills to give back to these beloved rescued animals and the men and women who served our county. 

Shelters across the nation see about 7.6 million animals and more than half of them are dogs. They are euthanized many times due to a lack of space, behavioral problems, or medical complications. Some dogs are overlooked for behavioral issues such as separation anxiety, barking, and housebreaking issues. Instead of passing up these animals in need, the Shelter to Soldier team rescues them and uses their behavior modification techniques to train the dogs for service work and remove unwanted behaviors. 

Ricky and Plato Shelter to Soldier

Co-founders Kyrie and Graham Bloem adopted Plato from a rescue group in the Los Angeles area back in February of 2015. Ricky, Plato's veteran, is a post-9/11 combat veteran and has been paired with Plato for the past few months prior to graduation. On February 17th, 2016 they celebrated with a graduation ceremony that honored their bond. During training, Ricky learned all about Plato’s service dog training, his psychiatric service tasks, and how to be a good handler of Plato in public settings. With the help of funding from the Spring Xposure Fashion Show, Shelter to Soldier graduation became a special platform to honor Ricky for his incredibly brave service as well as celebrating both Ricky and Plato’s hard work together as a team moving forward. 

Pay It Forward Processing attended the event to celebrate the success of Ricky and Plato by presenting a check in the amount of $2124.44, which was raised through their charitable merchant processing platform, Every Swipe Benefits Charity. Shelter to Soldier is a Pay It Forward non-profit partner. Plato’s Pet Treats and their philanthropic program, Plato Wags Back donated $10,000 toward the adoption, care, and housing of Plato in addition to a year’s worth of treats to the service dogs. Plato Wags introduced Plato to the program in 2014, and he became a great candidate for service due to his focus and excitement while working. He has a soft and cuddly side on top of his commitment to the program, which makes him a valuable service animal to Ricky. He is a husky/shepherd mix who loves playing ball and getting love and affection from the team. 

The graduation had Brad Fite as a speaker for the event. Fite is the author of Life After Death, a novel on the struggle with Post Traumatic Stress after traumatic combat experiences, which sheds some light on the reality of combat in the middle East and the severe injuries that incurred during his service overseas. This experience led him to serve our veterans and raise awareness of the men and women who defend our freedoms, such as Ricky. We are so excited that the Spring Xposure Fashion Show was able to help Shelter to Soldier with their mission to bring wellness to our veterans!