Shelter to Soldier performs double duty, rescues dogs and veterans

Chris Fink and her two-year-old coltriever Desi.
(Copyright Chris Fink )

For the last 10 years, Rancho Santa Fe’s Chris and Rick Fink have backed Shelter to Soldier, a San Diego nonprofit that supports military members in need and helps give dogs a forever home and a life of purpose. The organization adopts dogs from local shelters and rescue organizations and trains them to become psychiatric service dogs for post-9/11 veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury.

The Finks are dedicated financial donors, the yearly Shelter to Soldier golf tournament has become a family affair and the Finks have always attended the annual gala, the biggest fundraiser of the year. This year the nonprofit will hold its 11th annual “Be the Light Gala” on Aug. 18 at L’Auberge Del Mar.

A Rancho Santa Fe resident for 25 years, Fink had never heard of Shelter to Soldier before getting a random email years ago.

“It spoke to my heart because we have always had dogs in our family and my husband and I have always wanted to thank the military for their service but never found the right way to do it,” Chris Fink said.

Understanding the simple love of a dog, she was intrigued by their mission and admired the passion and credibility of founders Graham and Kyrié Bloem: “These people know what they’re doing and it’s really beyond getting a nice, sweet dog,” she said.

Five years ago, the Finks fully sponsored one of the Shelter to Soldier dogs, Keeta. The $20,000 commitment goes toward the dog’s training, board and care for 18 months up to two years to prepare them for their new veteran handler. The Finks were able to go to Keeta’s happy graduation ceremony, where she was officially passed over to a Navy veteran. They get updates on their progress from time to time.

Since getting involved, Fink has learned more about the kind of training the dogs receive—“More impressive than I even thought.” In addition to just standard commands, the dogs are trained in psychiatric service commands. They know to lay next to their handlers like compression therapy or to stand between their handlers’ legs when they are uncomfortable out in public, to block or make space for them and essentially have their backs.

Shelter to Soldier gets personal with their handlers, and dogs are custom designed to meet their individual needs. The companionship provides comfort, builds confidence and helps change lives.

“It truly is a ripple effect,” Fink said. “The dog goes to the person, the handler is a better person with their family and then that radiates out into the community when they’re really back to work or back socializing.”

Fink hopes to inspire others to support the worthy cause, to help save two lives at a time. To learn more about Shelter to Soldier, visit