B.J. Coleman … Great minds think alike, so the saying goes. And maybe kind minds find each other naturally and easily for collaboration.
If so, that would explain how active volunteers at Vista’s Alvin My Dunn American Legion Post 365 got together over the past few months to stand up fundraising and awareness-boosting group efforts to aid a nonprofit organization that provides service dogs free of charge to military veterans in need. Shelter to Soldier describes its organizational mission as “saving lives two at a time,” first by rescuing dogs at risk of being euthanized for lack of shelter space, and second by training and partnering those dogs as psychiatric service dogs for recently separated veterans of military service, especially those diagnosed as experiencing post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injury and depression.
North County Supports Shelter to Soldier (NCSSTS) was born of a common dedication to animals and veterans among people linked with the Vista American Legion Post. Spearheading initiation of the group late last year was Tim Herington, inspired by Margie and J.D. Ernst’s involvement with a motorcycle ride aimed at prevention of active-duty military and veteran suicide, which brought in money for Shelter to Soldier.
The post-service casualty rate, according to the Veterans Administration, is 22 to 23 U.S. military veterans committing suicide daily.
Among homeless dogs about 2.7 million are put to death annually, for scarcity of adoptive homes and shelter space.
Those startling numbers of senselessly lost life, which could be readily put to good purpose with well-directed intervention and assistance, cause longtime dog trainer Graham Bloem and his wife, Kyrié, to found Shelter to Soldier in 2012.
Herington and the Ernsts soon found other kindred volunteers at the Vista Post, including the current American Legion 365 House Chairman, Art Haeussler, who is also former president of American Legion Riders Chapter 365. Another eagerly aligned volunteer was American Legion Auxiliary Unit 365 President Colleen Collazo, who said of how the group came together, “Art put us in touch, knowing we were all trying to raise money for the same cause. My reason for wanting to raise money for STS is my passion for animals and veterans, and what better way than STS who saves two lives at a time.” Herington and Collazo became co-chairs in forming an executive committee with other volunteers willing to help STS.
Early fundraising endeavors for North County Supports Shelter to Soldier have been successful and encouraging. Not only has North County stepped up to contribute to NCSSTS
events, but San Diego County residents in parts south, east and west have come aboard to help.
A Veterans Ball at Post 365 on February 25 was a formal dinner dance, which honored the American Legion Post’s junior past commander, Haywood Bagley and a recent recipient of a Shelter to Soldier Service dog. All proceeds went to NCSSTS. A March 4 motorcycle poker run, hosted by the American Legion Riders of Post 365, brought in over $6,300, in honor of recently deceased rider Brian “Fret Devil” Rineberg and donated to NCSSTS.
The volunteers further participated in Vista’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration on March 12, manning a fair table and entering companion humans and dogs into a spontaneous dog walk accompanying the Irish festival’s Celtic Queen around streets through downtown Vista. Walk participants who paid entry fees were invited to return with their dogs to the Vista American Legion Post for a complimentary picnic-style meal and chances to win raffle items.
That event netted the group over $3,200.
Staffers with North County’s Mohnacky Animal Hospitals were in attendance at the St. Patrick’s Day Post 365 picnic meal in support of NCSSTS. Crystal Monroe serves as volunteer coordinator for Helping PAWS, as well as working for the veterinary clinics as lead nurse and assistant executive director. She was herself on active duty for six years in the U.S. Air Force. She described how dedicated Dr. Mohnacky and his employees are to assisting North County military families in need of pet care. The clinics offer one free spay or neuter for a military family, including all associated blood work and pain medications for pet recovery from the surgery. This nonprofit affiliated with the Mohnacky hospitals further attempts to help military families facing pet surgical emergencies. Participating in the NCSSTS St. Patrick’s Day Dog Walk is yet another of the Helping PAWS projects to serve military families with pets.
Colleen Collazo ventured south on Tuesday, March 14, to both enlist and provide support from a companion American Legion Auxiliary Unit stationed at Pacific Beach Post 552. The talented women at that San Diego coastal veterans service organization cooked up traditional Irish fare for an early St. Patrick’s Day meal, including corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots and green-sprinkled sugar cookies. Proceeds from dinner sales and donations were slated for Shelter to Soldier.
Next major fundraising event for NCSSTS will be a rummage sale in Vista on April 22. Volunteers with NCSSTS are requesting donations of rummage sale items. Information on arranging delivery or pick-up of rummage sale donated items and on other upcoming fundraising events can be acquired by email at NorthCountySSTS@gmail.com.