Author Archive

How Therapy Dogs Heal People

February 16, 2024

Therapy dogs have become crucial companions in various settings, bringing comfort, companionship, and emotional support to those in need.  In this blog post, we will explore the multifaceted benefits of therapy dogs and how their presence contributes to the well-being of those they interact with.

Perhaps their greatest super-power is how they can actually change our chemistry. Interacting with therapy dogs is known to release oxytocin, often referred to as the “bonding hormone.” The surge of oxytocin can improve mood and lift your spirits. The simple act of spending time with a therapy dog can improve a person’s emotional well-being. Beyond emotional well-being, therapy dogs also contribute to physical health. Petting a dog has been linked to physiological changes such as lower blood pressure and heart rate making you feel more relaxed. The calming presence of dogs helps to reduce stress, alleviate anxiety, and combat feelings of loneliness. The non-judgmental nature of these furry friends creates a safe space for people to express their emotions without fear of judgment or criticism (UCLA).

For individuals who may struggle with social interactions, therapy dogs act as social catalysts. Therapy dogs help to facilitate conversation and social engagement even when they aren’t the topic of the conversation itself. This social bridge helps individuals overcome barriers and foster a sense of connection with others. 

Therapy dogs extend their services to a diverse range of people and needs in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, disaster response areas, and more. Often, they cater to the specific needs of different groups, from children with learning disabilities to veterans dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) which is the inspiration behind our Shelter to Soldier Canine Ambassador program. As their presence continues to make a difference for the thousands served by our team every month, our ambassadors are a testament to the healing power of the human-animal bond. Our mighty team of 5 active therapy dogs share a common goal to serve as a “buffer” for those who are suffering from the invisible wounds of trauma, and they aim to Be a Light of hope in our community.

Aaron’s San Diego Union Tribune Opinion Article

November 22, 2023

U.S. Navy Veteran Aaron Neely shares his stance on how dogs transformed his life and recovery after service. As Aaron retires his first service dog and welcomes Murphy as his second, Neely illustrates how far he has come in the last five years with Liberty by his side.

Aaron Neely’s San Diego Union Tribune Opinion Article

Opinion:I struggled a lot as a Navy veteran after serving. My service dog changed everything.

When I first started having problems, it was hard for me to grasp. Problems showed up at work, then with the family, and eventually led to divorce, breakups and trying to co-parent kids. It was just a mess.

When I applied to Shelter to Soldier, an Oceanside nonprofit that adopts dogs from local shelters and trains them to become psychiatric service dogs for post-9/11 veterans suffering from post traumatic stress, I mumbled a lot and I didn’t speak up. It was hard for me to leave the house. It’s hard not to be emotional about that chapter of my life, because that’s all I thought my life was going to be. Just sitting on my couch and seeing my kids only occasionally.

I was on my way to Shelter to Soldier recently and I thought, wow, it’s been five years and today I am very engaged in both my children’s lives. I have developed some independence outside my service dog, who has been there for me every step of the way. I went from being very unhealthy, and I am no fitness model, to going to the gym, hiking, and getting out and about. Today, I do more and live more. There are so many wonderful things that I do each day that are enriching my life that were not happening before having my service dog, Liberty. Thanks to her, I feel rejuvenated, experience peace within myself, and have developed new and healthy relationships. All these things that are now possible because of Liberty — because I earned her — and today, I want to give back to Shelter to Soldier because it has invested so much in me and changed my life.

Liberty recently had to retire from her service dog work, and Shelter to Soldier was able to celebrate her retirement with a special ceremony before I graduated with my successor service dog, Murphy. It was a tough transition for me “letting go” of Liberty as my companion and transitioning her to a pet dog life of retirement in my home. She has some arthritis and mobility issues that were limiting her ability to be on her feet as much as I needed from a service dog. Through Shelter to Soldier, any previous graduate (in good standing with certifications) is automatically eligible for a successor dog should the original service dog need to retire from duty for any reason. Thanks to those on the incredible team at UNITE Hair who sponsored my second service dog, Murphy, that the Shelter to Soldier team adopted from Labs and More and trained specifically for my needs over the past year and a half.

The night before my graduation with Murphy, I said our usual “Liberty, let’s go snuggle” command which is her cue for us to go to bed. Over the last few weeks, she has had a hard time with it. But that night I told her “It’s your last night on duty!” and she got up and went right to bed. I realized at that moment how far Liberty and I have come in five years. Liberty came out of training and straight to an NFL football game with me in Seattle — the Seahawks against my Vikings. She came home on a Wednesday night in the rain, and we were in Seattle the next day, and a few days later at Monday Night Football — and she just did great. Liberty just sat up after laying there the whole game and rested her chin on my leg. For the past five years, it’s been a lot of that. Her being there for me.

Unfortunately, with my diagnosis, I chronically ruminate about suicide. I’ve had a couple of attempts and thank God, never completed it. It’s just something that I’m going to have to deal with. And I’ve noticed with the dogs and through treatment, those thoughts are less and less, and life feels more like it’s worth living. The kind of diagnoses I have will go through life with me. Seeing how Liberty has supported me the last five years gives me so much hope for how Murphy will support me in these next five years. This is my future, this is my life, and the Shelter to Soldier team has created that for me. These dogs don’t come home this well prepared to love unless they’ve been loved.

So, if you’re a veteran, those at Shelter to Soldier are not folks who are feeling sorry for you. They are investing in not just your future, but the future of your friends and your family because we are in a battle for life. I’m thankful to the donors and thankful to Shelter to Soldier. My heart is full of gratitude for what it does for all of us.

Emily’s San Diego Union Tribune Opinion Article

November 22st, 2023

This year we had the incredible opportunity to share our mission through The San Diego Union Tribune. This opinion article is written by our newest pack member Emily Anderson, who shares her take on solving two problems with one solution.

Emily Anderson’s San Diego Union Tribune Opinion Article 

Opinion: Many veterans need mental health help, and many pets need homes. We’re helping both.

There are too many veterans in the United States who face mental health challenges. There are also too many dogs in shelters at risk of euthanasia. But the good news is both problems can be reduced simultaneously with programs like one developed in North County.

The mental health crisis in the veteran population has exponentially grown, leaving our soldiers to fight their toughest battles on their own after their time enlisted. The 2022 National Veterans Suicide Prevention Annual Report states an average of 17 veterans commit suicide daily. The American Addiction Centers reports a 95 percent increase in veteran suicide rates for individuals between the ages of 18-34 in the last 20 years, and has also shared that in the last two decades the prevalence of mental health and substance abuse disorders has nearly doubled within this community.

At large, suicide is one of the leading causes of death for people in uniform, with those in the younger demographic being most vulnerable to taking their lives. As the numbers continue to rise, researchers have found that mental well-being is a huge indicator of overall life satisfaction and directly correlates to the quality of life in veterans. Invisible scars and trauma induced from serving play a particularly large role in the mental health of veterans and our active-duty members. With this, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Department of Defense have highlighted the urgency of this epidemic, and are committed to reducing and eliminating the rate of suicide in the veteran population. Our soldiers have given up everything for our country and it’s our time to give back to those who have risked it all.

A nonprofit organization in Oceanside, Shelter to Soldier is devoted to helping veterans as they heal invisible wounds most of us will never understand. Overcoming the mental health crisis among veterans requires a collective effort, and the Shelter to Soldier team is here to play a role in aiding the recovery of our servicemen and women. Shelter to Soldier adopts dogs from local shelters and trains them to become psychiatric service dogs for post-9/11 veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and/or military sexual trauma.

Since 2012, Shelter to Soldier has been dedicated to supporting veterans’ mental health by giving them a new tool to combat the perils of mental illness following traumatic service experiences. Equipped with training and additional resources, our Shelter to Soldier veteran recipients have the opportunity to re-envision a future of less pain with the help of service dogs. Adding trained professional animals to one’s life has shown significant positive change in life satisfaction for our veterans and their families. With each success story Shelter to Soldier builds, it is clear that the relationship between service dogs and veterans has changed the game in our vets’ journeys towards a brighter future.

Secondly, animal shelters across the nation have reached capacity. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals reports that 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year and approximately 390,000 dogs are euthanized annually. Many shelter animals are well suited to be a part of people’s lives but due to the lack of space in shelters, dogs are being put down due to minor behavioral issues that can be easily fixed with the correct training.

With time, training and funding, Shelter to Soldier is able to save dogs from a life spent in the shelter and provide the dogs a purpose and forever home, at no cost to its veteran recipients. Shelter to Soldier actively partners with local shelters and rescue groups to find dogs who, after thorough medical and behavioral health evaluations, demonstrate a potential as psychiatric service dog candidates for those who have served. Through each alliance we establish, Shelter to Soldier trainers ensure that the dogs are ready to provide distinctive forms of assistance tailored to meet the individual needs of our veterans.

Shelter to Soldier has created a sustainable solution to some of the largest issues in our country. Many researchers have found that service animals play a huge role in the well-being of human lives. The National Institute of Health has concluded that service dogs help individuals who suffer from PTSD and in return have lower levels of suicidal ideation. Moreover, the National Institute of Health reports that service animals are key contributors to improving mental health. Bringing together veterans and dogs is a remedy that gives both parties a second chance at life. Throughout the training process, it is evident that veterans develop a new sense of belonging that only our dogs can provide. Moreover, finding sheltered animals their forever home is a success that fuels the entire team at Shelter to Soldier, whose members are wholeheartedly moved by the connections we have watched develop and the goals to see more change in years to come. This is why “Saving Lives, Two at a Time” is our motto.

PupLid x Shelter to Soldier

March 7, 2022

Shelter to Soldier and PupLid  Collaboration

March 1st, 2022

Photo credit: Allison Shamrell Pet Photography

We are excited to announce a new collaboration with PupLid on their product release of camo dog baseball caps and matching caps for people!

To commemorate the launch, PupLid will donate 20% of all sales on to Shelter to Soldier when code STS20 is used! Additionally, during March 2022, PupLid is donating 20% of any other camo sales on to Shelter to Soldier!

PupLid is an Encinitas, CA-based small business with a mission to make awesome products that help dog families enhance the lives of their pets! PupLid was created by a veterinarian and engineer who needed a solution for their dog, Buddy, who loves the beach but has sun-sensitive eyes. When Buddy’s parents could not find him a well-fitting and stylish hat to shade his eyes, they made a trucker hat for him. Buddy’s hat worked so well, they launched PupLid, the company, to help enhance the lives of all dogs.

Buddy’s, veterinarian mom, Kathy Burnell, DVM, knows Shelter to Soldier first-hand through her work as a small animal veterinarian in Oceanside, CA. Additionally, with Camp Pendleton nearby, many of her patients belonged to active military personnel and veterans. Because of this, she saw that for so many active military personnel and veterans, their dogs are not only family members, but they provide essential emotional or service support that alleviates anxiety, depression and helps their person function emotionally and/or physically.

When PupLid created their camo puplids they wanted to use this product as a way to give back to people who have served our country. Because of their awareness of Shelter to Soldier and the large military community in San Diego, supporting Shelter to Soldier was their clear choice.

Kathy Burnell, DVM shared, “As a veterinarian, I have been so impressed with Shelter to Soldier, their dedication to their mission of ‘saving lives, two at a time’ and their team. I feel fortunate that through PupLid, we can support Shelter to Soldier by raising awareness and funds for their amazing organization. Our PupLid team is truly inspired by their mission and the veterans they serve.”

The Six-Panel Camo baseball cap for dogs is the latest addition to the PupLid product line for dogs who prefer a more adventure-ready look. Like PupLid’s trucker hats for dogs, the baseball caps feature a patent pending “Furfect Fit” system for maximum comfort, stability, and adjustability. They come in six sizes to fit dogs of all shapes and sizes, from 2 to 100 hundred pounds. PupLid even offers matching human hats so dogs and their humans can look great together!

Because puplids are designed for maximal comfort and fit for dogs, they are hats dogs will actually wear!

Like with any new accessory for your dog, use positive reinforcement to introduce your dog to their new puplid. Check out our video to see how you can introduce them to a puplid.

PupLid “How To” Video

National Service Dog Month

September 30, 2021

In honor of National Service Dog Month, Shelter to Soldier (STS) is highlighting heroic dogs that have been rescued from shelters, trained and then matched with eligible US veterans who suffer from PTS, TBI and other injuries associated with combat experiences. Below are success stories that demonstrate the STS mission of Saving Lives, Two at a Time.©


Dustin A. Potash (US Army), successfully graduated through the STS curriculum and was paired with his compassionate service dog, Nigel (sponsored by UNITE Hair). According to Dustin, “I joined the Army in 2002; in 2003 I was deployed to Iraq during the first invasion. In 2013, I was diagnosed with PTSD with Major Depressive Disorder. I have had suicidal thoughts since 2013, but they [STS] helped me overcome these thoughts by pairing me with my wonderful therapeutic companion STS service dog, Nigel. STS has been nothing but a positive resource in my life. I am extraordinarily grateful to my sponsor UNITE Hair and Shelter to Soldier for providing me with a new positive outlook on life.”

“If it weren’t for STS, I don’t know if I’d still be around…they are like an extended family for me”.

 Nigel is a spunky and goofy pit bull mix who loves his job as Dustin’s psychiatric service dog. STS adopted Nigel from their friends at

Labs and More Rescue in San Diego, CA.

Photo credit (above): Allison Shamrell Pet Photography

Veteran Advocate

Dustin Potash with Nigel

STS service dog recipient, Shawn Brown, (USMC), recommends to other veterans who are struggling with PTS, “My best advice to other veterans is…get the help, and not to have too much pride that stops you from getting help”. Shawn was paired with his STS service dog named Wilson (sponsored by The Fish Market) in January, 2021. Brown served in the United States Marine Corps for 16 years and was deployed for two tours in Iraq in 2003-2004. Shawn elaborates, “I realized I was struggling with PTS when I got back [home], and I thought I was okay. But then five years ago, I had a genuine nervous breakdown and was having suicidal thoughts”. After learning of the STS service dog program, his subsequent acceptance into the program, and then meeting available dogs, he began to bond with the STS team and found his new, most important teammate, Wilson. “My first meeting with Wilson was in the Shelter to Soldier yard…he ran straight towards me and he was all over me. It wasn’t overwhelming, it was just right. He picked me like, ‘Hey Dad, what’s up?’ and it was a great feeling.” Since graduating the STS program it is clear that Wilson has made a positive impact in Shawn’s life.  Shawn states, “With [Wilson], I’m still hesitant [in public] sometimes, but when I look at it, I see I’ve gone back out to live”.

“A lot of us get our identity in what we’ve done and not actually in who we are. So, get the help and figure out WHO you are. That’s going to help you in the end. Don’t be scared to get the help.”

 Wilson made significant strides as a service dog trainee and took to his new job, proudly and quickly. Wilson was adopted from Labs and More rescue.

The success story of veteran Angelito F. Bautista (US Navy, Ret.) and his STS service dog, Halia (sponsored by Northrop Grumman) serve as an inspiration to all veterans who hope for a better future. As Angelito (“Lito”) Bautista explains, “I had a very pleasant experience during my application process with Shelter to Soldier. The pairing process [with my STS service dog] is definitely one of the most memorable experiences for me about the program. I was given the opportunity to interact with several dogs, after which it was apparent and validated by my trainer that Halia was my match. On December 24, 2020 (Christmas Eve), official transfer of Halia’s adoption was finalized.

Today, Halia and I continue our journey…she has allowed me to see the world from a much more grounded point of view. So much improvement and good has happened since having Halia in my life.”

Halia is a pit-mix that STS adopted from San Diego Department of Animal Services Bonita Shelter. She is gentle and cuddly, but still energetic and focused enough to really enjoy working. She has an infectious smile that lifts everyone she greets.

In 2015, Karen Miller (US Navy, Senior Chief Boatswain Mate, E8), applied to STS to acquire a service dog to help Karen alleviate medical conditions she was battling after multiple, consecutive tours she served in the US military over the span of 26 years. Karen was extremely grateful to be accepted into the STS program and declares that her dog STS service dog Seven (sponsored by FINE Magazine and Schubach Aviation) was a lifesaver. Seven unfortunately succumbed to arthritis and retired her job as a psychiatric service dog, but STS quickly reassigned a new STS service dog to Karen named Grace (sponsored by the David C. Copley Foundation), who is full of energy and ambition to serve Karen’s needs. During her deployments, Karen experienced extreme trauma that affected her ability to cope with civilian life after military retirement. Karen explains, “Thanks to my STS service dog Grace, I have been able to overcome some of the anguish I experienced. Grace is so disciplined…she responds to commands and she is very intuitive. She knows when I’m under stress and she has happy energy when I’m paying attention to her. She makes me smile more often, and when I’m with her, she climbs on my lap and she’s doing that all on her own. She senses when I need her comfort.”

“My message to my fellow veterans is that the STS program is for everyone, and you’re never too old to ask for help.”

Grace is an energetic but focused gal who thrived in the STS training program. STS adopted her from their friends at Labs and More Rescue in San Diego, CA.

If you are a veteran who is seeking the support of a psychiatric service dog program, please reach out to us to determine eligibility, or complete the Shelter to Soldier application on the homepage of our website. Our Veteran Advocate, Dustin Potash, stands by ready to answer your questions and assist veterans through the application process.

Shelter to Soldier Red Star Sponsorship

July 21, 2020

Shelter to Soldier’s Red Star Sponsorship program allows the donor to be intimately involved in the live saving impact of our mission. Funds sponsored at this level cover the adoption of a new dog from a local shelter to rescue organization, the costs of housing, training and caring for the service dog trainee through our 12-18 month training program, matching the pup with a veteran in need, handler training for the matched team, and their graduation as service dog and veteran handler. It’s a great opportunity to get your brand behind a story, providing many opportunities for cause-marketing and demonstrating your corporate responsibility. Learn more about our Red Star Sponsorship program at the link below.

Red Star Sponsorship Flyer

11 Ways to Support Shelter to Soldier #GivingTuesdayNOW

April 29, 2020

11 ways you can support homeless dogs and veterans in need on #GivingTuesdayNow

On Tuesday, May 5, the world will come together to GIVE. Giving Tuesday is a global day of philanthropy celebrated every year in the Fall. Inspired by the urgent need that many nonprofits currently face with a declined giving climate in the wake of COVID-19, the critical need of support programs for our most vulnerable, and the ongoing dedication of these programs to those in need, the Giving Tuesday team has created #GivingTuesdayNow dedicated to programs and initiatives that are making a difference, today and every day.

Shelter to Soldier continues to adopt dogs from local shelters and rescue organizations and our team is still hard at work in training sessions with our service dog trainees every day. Every day, we answer the call for many veterans who have hit rock bottom. They are looking for a light amidst the darkness and have found hope in our program. Our psychiatric service dogs provide nonjudgmental support to post-9/11 combat veterans suffering from the perils of mental injury associated with traumatic service experiences. They gave everything to support us. It’s our turn to give back to them.

Our service dogs agree. They stand by eager to work to attenuate symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), like hypervigilance, sleep disturbances, insomnia, memory loss, anxiety, and depression, among others. Our trainees are task trained to provide both physical and emotional support to their veteran handlers.

Shelter to Soldier has 21 service dogs in training and we are currently working to adopt 4 more for our program. According to one of our veteran graduates, Adam Cunningham, USMC,

Bash has been life-changing. After having gone through major life events, I can say with certainty that having Bash has been a major life event. With Bash, I have gone out a lot more – A LOT MORE. San Diego Gulls games (as the Military Hero of the Game!), Shelter to Soldier social events, Lake Arrowhead with friends, and yes, I do buy my own groceries at the store again. While there is still anxiety and depression, I can say that I have not had suicidal ideations. I feel I’ve been able to cope better with Bash supporting me. I am still working on reducing years of habits formed due to trauma, but I’m taking all the small victories with Bash and getting some steam behind me to look back and see the whole picture of a larger victory.”

Our mission at Shelter to Soldier continues and we need your support! Here are 11 ways you can make a difference for the lives saved by our program:

  1. Share our mission. Tell your friends and family on social media about the work we do. Wear your STS apparel and talk to someone new about how Shelter to Soldier is “Saving Lives, Two at a Time.” Snap a pic of you and your beloved pup and tell your friends you support @SheltertoSoldier!
  2. Send Cards. Veterans in general are particularly vulnerable during this time of uncertainty in the wake of COVID-19. Let them know you have their back. Send cards to our veteran students and graduates with encouraging words! Read about our Success Stories (teams) and teams in training to personalize them, or just send general notes of kindness!

Shelter to Soldier

2665 Fourth Ave.

San Diego, CA 92103

  1. Gift an item from our pup’s Wish List. You know that smile your pup gives you when you offer him a treat or her favorite bone? You can create that same smile on the faces of our service dog trainees by shopping on Amazon for items on our wish list and sending them to our facility:

Shelter to Soldier

2909 San Luis Rey Rd.

Oceanside, CA


  1. Make us your charity of choice and shop Amazon Smile for all of your Amazon needs. Speaking of Amazon, did you know that you can shop utilizing all of Amazon’s amazing features on Amazon Smile will donate a purchase of every sale (you ever make!) to your charity of choice. Simply click on the “supporting” tab under the search bar on Amazon Smile, or click the link above, and choose Shelter to Soldier as your charity!
  2. Wine and Doggy ‘Poo Shampoo. You’ve been safer-at-home with your pup for a weeks now, it’s time for a bath for your pooch! UNITE’s Doggy ‘Poo and Leave-In Conditioner is the most luscious blend of dog shampoo and conditioner formulated to keep your dog healthy, happy and oh so soft, PLUS proceeds benefit our program at Shelter to Soldier! Order some delicious One Hope wines where 10% of your purchase will be donated to our program, now through May 12!
  1. Color! And get the kids in on the fun, too. Download our Shelter to Soldier color sheet here and then post it on social media to share your artwork! @ShelterToSoldier This is a great way to get your kiddos involved in this powerful day of giving and explain the importance of giving back to their communities. Even while they are happy at home, they can feel like they’re contributing to positive change in the lives of homeless dogs and veterans who need their support. For more on how kids can get engaged in giving back through our program, read our blog post on Blue Star Sponsor Kids!
  2. Become a fundraiser. COVID-19 has brought challenges to everyone around the globe. Our program is no exception. Donations have dramatically slowed during this time, yet our work continues. Our program relies on donations to continue rescuing dogs and serving veterans. Becoming a fundraiser helps both share our mission and provide life-saving funds to our program. It’s as easy as adding a “donate” button on your Instagram story, creating a fundraiser on Facebook, or create a custom email to your friends and family and share our online donation link.
  3. Get some STS Swag. We have some fun apparel, water bottles, accessories, and even a 64 oz growler on our Shop for a Cause site – check it out! Your purchase of these Shelter to Soldier branded items raises funds for our program.
  4. Pledge a monthly gift. There is huge power in numbers. For as little as $5 a month, you can be a lifesaver by contributing to a sustainable source of support for our program every month. These are funds we know we can count on to run our operation and its associated costs monthly. If we all come together, we can do great things!
  5. Donate an item in-kind to our auction. Our fundraising events are huge contributors to our life saving work. They not only create awareness for animal rescue and veteran suicide, but they also generate much needed funds to keep us operational. Guests of our 8th Annual Gala (scheduled for August 22, 2020) love exciting auction items and the funds raised from them make a real difference for the dogs and veterans who need our program. If you know of or own a business that would like to contribute an item or package, please let us know! Email for more details.
  6. Become a Sponsor. Have the ability to increase your gift and want to learn more? Our Red Star Sponsorship program provides the funds needed to sponsor one dog from the day of adoption, through our 12-18 month training program, to their ultimate graduation with their veteran handler. You’ll get to name the dog, receive updates on your sponsored dog’s training progress, be notified when your dog is matched with a veteran for handler training, and receive a special invitation to their graduation ceremony at the end of their program. Our White Star Sponsorship provides critical funds that support all veteran applicants, students and graduates with peer-to-peer counseling, access to services with our mental health liaison and direct support from our team throughout their journey through our program.

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