Every day, an average of 20 U.S. veterans commit suicide and approximately 1800 dogs are euthanized nationwide. And a 2020 study by the Census Bureau shows that post-9/11 combat veterans had a 43% chance of having a service-connected disability—significantly higher than that of veterans from other periods.
Those are just two of the many reasons that Shelter to Soldier—a nonprofit that adopts dogs from local shelters and trains them to become psychiatric service dogs for post-9/11 combat veterans—was started.
The organization believes in “Saving Lives, Two at a Time” and over nine years it has grown to be able to train 25 dogs at a time to provide support for veterans.
To train and care for the dogs at their Oceanside, California location, Shelter to Soldier needed covered shade and rain protected training spaces and “break yards” for the dogs. And when Sattler found out through an industry friend, they stepped in and donated 118 yards of their Evolution awning fabric, enough to cover six outdoor areas.
“After learning more about what the Shelter to Soldier’s mission was and the wonderful work that they are doing for our veterans and the rescue dogs we were very happy to donate the awning fabric and shipping so there would be no cost to Shelter to Soldier,” says Sattler Director of Awning and Marine Steve Fredrickson.
After adoption, the dogs train in the Shelter to Soldier program for 12-18 months with approximately the final seven months dedicated to handler training with their veteran match to prepare the team for life after graduation.
In addition to training psychiatric service dogs, Shelter to Soldier also has an Emotional Support Animal (ESA) program and a volunteer team of therapy dogs, Shelter to Soldier Canine Ambassadors, that serve many veterans in the region. Since 2012 Shelter to Soldier has placed 39 service dogs with veterans, trained 11 Emotional Support Animals and has adopted 70 dogs for their program.
The program can help veterans boost their confidence, increase productivity, and improve relationships through the security and companionships that the service dogs provide, and the dogs benefit because they’re now trained to be elite service dogs, which gives them a new purpose in life as they bond with their veteran in need.
“The Sattler blue awnings have provided much-needed weatherproofing and shade for our large training yards, to help us maximize their use, protect our training equipment and support a safe temperature for our dogs to work,”says to Kyrie Bloem, Shelter to Soldier vice president. “Our primary focus is to work with our service dog trainees through multiple training sessions daily, to best prepare them for life as service dogs.”
Additionally, the space welcomes veteran students and graduates for comfortable, shaded training sessions away from the elements to focus on the bond with their dogs and their progress as teams. Shelter to Soldier is currently working with 20 veteran students and servicing ongoing training for 35 graduated veteran/dog teams.
“The most rewarding part of this project was knowing that we not only made a positive difference in someone’s life but saved two lives at once while helping to solve one of the biggest issues for returning veterans – PTSD” Fredrickson says. “Every time I see a Facebook post from Shelter to Soldier showing the training areas being used to help the veterans and their dogs I am proud that we are part of their continued success.”