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Program pairs shelter dogs with soldiers

SAN DIEGO – A non-profit organization called “Shelter to Soldier” is connecting dogs that need homes with service members who need a companion or service dog.

“Many of these service members are coming home with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries, and we are training shelter dogs to be just what they need,” said Graham Bloem of Shelter to Soldier.

Studies show nearly one in every five service members are returning from overseas deployments and suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder. Lance Corporal James Norvell includes himself in that group.

Norvell is an infantryman in the United States Marine Corps, and after his last deployment he returned home with a traumatic brain injury and severe PTSD.

On Tuesday, Norvell met his new service dog for the first time, and he says “Ty” has already helped him smile.

“The Marine Corps gives you therapy, medication and stuff like that and sometimes that doesn’t work so this is the next step,” he said. “Him just being there will help with my anxiety and stuff that I have trouble with everyday.”

Ty is a golden retriever mix and a perfect shelter dog to go into the service dog training program.

Bloem is working to screen new shelter dogs for the training, and relying on generous donations to make the program a continuing success.

“An average dog for us cost about $8,000 to 10,000 to put through the program, and it’s a lot, but it’s worth it. At the end of the day you see what happens with these guys and our men and women who are serving our country, and that’s our mission.”