Retired Service Dog Gives a Community of Veterans a Helping Paw

Moose was adopted to help change the life of one deserving veteran, but he was destined to touch the lives of an entire military community.

Nicky + Moose

Moose is a retired service dog with an incredible career in helping veterans thrive through Shelter to Soldier. Today, he continues to make a difference to adults and children alike as a Canine Ambassador therapy dog, bringing caring and compassion to veterans and his local military community as a whole. 

"As someone who sees how dogs change lives every day, I am still constantly amazed at how much love and light Moose is able to spread to our community. With wet kisses, kind eyes, and unconditional love and understanding, his light can brighten even the darkest of days."

Moose was adopted from the San Diego Department of Animal Services in 2017 by Shelter to Soldier (STS), and under the generous sponsorship of Petco Love. Shelter to Soldier is a non-profit that adopts dogs from Southern California shelters and trains them as psychiatric service dogs for veterans with mental health diagnoses.

Following his adoption, Moose entered the STS Service Dog program, and that’s where I enter this love story. I’m Nicky, and I was Moose’s trainer. Through working with Moose, it was quickly apparent that he would make an excellent service dog for a veteran in need. He is an empathetic dog who adores people and will do anything for a snack!

It wasn’t long before Moose completed his initial training and was matched with a deserving veteran. Following their program graduation, Moose even assisted his veteran in regaining custody of his child with autism! They were an excellent team and Moose’s handler was thriving, but he needed to focus on being a full-time father and caretaker, and that meant he couldn’t give Moose the things he needed to be a fulfilled, working service dog. 

In 2020, Moose returned to Shelter to Soldier with an uncertain future, but I knew Moose was not done spreading his light to others in need. However, he no longer qualified to be a service dog through our program due to his age. It was time to create a new path for Moose where he could impact not just one veteran in need, but the entire military community.

In May of 2020, my husband and I adopted Moose, and he became the inspiration for launching the Shelter to Soldier Canine Ambassador Therapy Dog program. After some restructuring of his training, Moose passed the Therapy Dog International (TDI) certification test, was named the very first “Ambassador,” and was ready to start changing the lives of veterans, active-duty military personnel, and their families.

Currently, Moose has many jobs as a Canine Ambassador. He comforts veterans in the STS program by attending training sessions, he visits active-duty sailors, comforts victims of military sexual assault, teaches children about service dogs, emotional support animals, and therapy dogs, and visits families and military members at various community events. As an STS Canine Ambassador and retired service dog, Moose is able to interact with the community in ways that working service dogs cannot. You can even catch Moose spreading the love at Petco Park as a member of the 2021 Padres Paw Squad!

As someone who sees how dogs change lives every day, I am still constantly amazed at how much love and light Moose spreads to our community. With wet kisses, kind eyes, and unconditional love and understanding, his light can brighten even the darkest of days for our veterans and military community—and certainly mine.

Each year, Petco Love Stories invites adopters to share how their pets have changed their lives to give the organizations that they’ve adopted from the chance to receive grant awards. This story by Nicky won Shelter to Soldier, Inc. in San Diego, California a 2021 Love Stories award.