SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — It's been a while since we last checked in with Buddy and his training to become a service dog for a veteran suffering from PTSD. Because of the pandemic, he’s a little behind schedule, but Shelter to Soldier is still optimistic that a match with a veteran is coming soon.
Unfortunately, Buddy isn’t alone. The pandemic has forced the nonprofit’s trainers to get creative to help all of the dogs stay on track, but that’s easier said than done.
“We're having to pick large outdoor spaces away from people - outdoor cafes, not indoor restaurants,” said Graham Bloem, Shelter to Soldier’s director.
As a result, it's hard to get the dogs the training they need around large groups of people, strange situations and noisy environments.
“We are, at times, months behind,” Graham said. “And the scary thing about that is when you're behind on the dogs, you're behind on helping veterans.”
Many veterans suffering from PTSD are afraid to leave their home, regularly experience horrific night terrors, and some admit they've tried to commit suicide. There's no question that service dogs from Shelter to Soldier have saved lives, and during this pandemic, their service has never been needed more.
“The isolation is causing even more struggles and challenges than ever before," the organization said.
It's been exactly a year now since Buddy was rescued from a shelter and started his training. He has advanced enough to begin what Graham affectionately calls "speed dating" where Buddy meets veterans to see if they're a good match.
“Things are starting to heat up and get a little bit serious," he said.
Also getting a little bit serious is Shelter to Soldier's fundraising concerns. Its 8th annual "Be The Light Gala" - scheduled for August 22 - is now a virtual event.
“This is our largest fundraiser of the year,” Graham said. “It's what allows us to continue to help dogs like Buddy and other dogs in the program.”
Tickets for the fundraiser, which include entertainment, silent and live auctions, and lots of cute dogs, start at just $35. Click here for more information about Shelter to Soldier and the fundraiser.