What Makes a This Able Veteran Service Dog Special?

The US Department of Veteran Affairs says Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) “is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.”

Fortunately, This Able Veteran is doing something to assist qualified veterans suffering from PTSD with highly trained service dogs.

In this post, we will identify what makes a This Able Veteran service dog so remarkable and unique and how they help veterans suffering with PTSD by the tasks they’ve been trained to perform.

What Makes TAV Dogs Special?

Behesha Doan, founder and Program Director of This Able Veteran, is a certified dog trainer and a certified service dog trainer through the International Association of Canine Professionals, and her training career spans nearly 40 years. Doan explains what makes TAV dogs so special.

“One of the things that makes TAV service dogs so remarkable is our puppy selection process of the service dog candidates. Given the importance of the tasks these dogs will need to perform, we start with puppies that come from a genetic and temperamental history of proven service dog stock. That means the mother and father have produced puppies whose temperaments are consistent with the kind of work they will need to do as adult working dogs.” said Doan.

This Able Veteran typically takes pups in at eight weeks of age and their training begins at that time. It takes between 16-18 months from start to finish.

“One of most important things is that our new puppies must learn how to learn.  We accomplish this in our 8 week old pups by teaching interactive games using positive reinforcement and play.  When done effectively, our training system creates a highly motivated, focused, engaged young dog that loves to learn new things.  When this system of communication is built and cemented in the months that follow, we can teach the dogs new things for the rest of its life. Because dogs also have genetic motivations, breed specific tendencies, social and interactive needs, food motivations, and varying capacities to sustain mental focus, we make sure we expand the dogs’ capacities as far as possible while loving their work every hour of every day of their lives.” said Doan.

Doan says that This Able Veteran dog trainers have learned directly from her how to develop and instill a clear understanding of how to do tasks that have dozens of layers required for understanding and reliable performance under high distraction levels or to awaken out of a dead sleep and still accomplish the task(s). She explains that nightmare interruption is a good example of a multi-layer process.

“The dogs must have genetic, temperamental and trained responses to remain completely calm and peaceful when a veteran might be at work, in a classroom, or in a meeting. In the same instant, they also must recognize, react and alert the veteran when the veteran shows even the most subtle signs of rising anxiety which could be a jaw clench, a stiffening of the body, wringing of the hands or respiration changes. The dog is trained to move from calm inactivity to highly focused in a matter of two or three seconds.” she said.

“That is a razor thin line for a dog to do that especially when the dog is being petted or talked to by others or in crowds or stadiums. TAV dogs also must be non-reactive to loud/strange sounds, abrupt movements, uninvited touch, and stressful environments. They must become neutral to all those things.” Behesha stated.

Reflecting on the goal of placing a TAV service dog in a veteran’s life, Doan states “It is a powerful thing to hear our veterans tell us how much more peace, freedom, and independence they experience on an increasing basis from year to year.  As the veteran practices what he/she learned in our Trauma Resilience Program, and the dog practices it’s trained skillsets, the result is a more and more empowered life, deeper attunement between the dog/handler pair, and better quality of life for their families and friends as well.

And it all starts with those special TAV dogs.


To learn how you can support This Able Veteran, visit here. Thank you.

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Spotlight on This Able Veteran Board President, Jonathan Mitchell

Jonathan Mitchell has served on This Able Veteran’s (TAV) Board of Directors since
2016. He became aware of TAV, a non-profit organization located in southern Illinois,
through his affiliation with Rotary.

“When Phil Gillespie, a former member of TAV’s Board of Directors and fellow Rotarian
told me about this about this great program that helps veterans suffering from PTSD, I
was impressed. As a veteran myself, I thought this organization’s mission was
outstanding, so when he asked me to join the board, I didn’t hesitate,” said Jonathan.
Jonathan says his experiences serving TAV have been enriching.

“TAV is an organization that provides personal and direct support to help veterans in
need. Every year I get to see the substantial impact that TAV makes for the veterans
who are chosen to be part of this program, which is why I continue to proudly serve on
TAV’s Board,” he said.

Jonathan’s has a rich and varied background. Born in Tyler, Texas, he graduated from
Baylor University with a Business degree and a secondary education teaching
certificate. After graduating, he started his professional career with a marketing
company headquartered in St. Louis. Jonathan worked on projects including the 1996
Olympic Torch Relay, the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, and he traveled the
country on projects for K-Mart and Coca-Cola.

After two years of marketing, meeting his wife, and getting married, he returned to
school for a graduate degree and attended law school at the University of Oklahoma.
Immediately after graduation from law school, Jonathan started with the US Navy Judge
Advocate General’s Corps and his first duty locations were at Naval Air Station
Jacksonville, Florida and at Naval Station Mayport, Florida. After five years of active
duty, he transitioned into the Navy Reserve and he and his wife, and their two
daughters, moved to southern Illinois where he has practiced law in the civilian sector
since 2005 while continuing to serve in the US Navy Reserve. He is currently the
Managing Partner for Feirich/Mager/Green/Ryan law firm in Carbondale, Illinois, where
he has a general practice, but focuses on corporate law and civil litigation.

With almost 23 years of military service, Jonathan currently is a Captain serving as the
Commanding Officer of the Navy Reserve Region Legal Service Midwest at Naval
Station Great Lakes.

“The Navy has allowed me to travel the globe and it has opened doors for me
throughout my life. During my active and reserve career, I have served at locations
across the US and in Afghanistan, Iraq, Cuba, Bahrain, Italy, and Japan,” he said.

Jonathan has always had an affinity for dogs, which also helped him relate well with
This Able Veteran.

“I had a Labrador Retriever for the past nine years named Cash, who
unfortunately passed away in 2022. Cash was a two-time champion of the Splash Dogs
retriever jumping contest at John A. Logan Community College Fishing and Hunting
Days. He was a member of the family and a smart and loyal friend,” said Jonathan.
For the dogs TAV trains each year, Jonathan says he stands in awe watching the
trainers train the dogs for the veterans.

“I have a tremendous amount of pride and joy observing Behesha Doan, founder of This
Able Veteran, and the trainers work and teach the dogs with the goal of pairing each
dog with a veteran in need. Even though I have seen the fully-trained dogs many times
in the past seven years, I continue to find it amazing to watch the service dogs work
with and support their veterans,” he said.

Jonathan’s wife, Christie Mitchell, is a lecturer at Southern Illinois University in
Carbondale, Illinois and teaches in the marketing department of the SIU School of
Business. They have two daughters, Annie and Grace, who are both currently attending
the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. Jonathan says in his spare time, he
enjoys exercise, golf, and spending time with friends and family.

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