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
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.