Spotlight on Veteran Dennis Blankenship

Hollie is a perfect fit for professional angler, Dennis Blankenship.

Hollie’s favorite place to be in the world.

Dennis and Hollie meeting during the Trauma Resilience Program. You can see the love here in this photo.

This Able Veteran’s pairing ceremony with Dennis and Hollie.

Lifelong partners.

Dennis Blankenship completed the Trauma Resiliency Program at This Able Veteran in the fall of 2020. At the end of the program, he was paired with his service dog, Hollie, and he says it has been an amazing adventure ever since. He and Hollie live in Irons, Michigan where Blankenship is a professional angler. Both he and Hollie share a love of fishing.

Blankenship served in the military for nine years. He served in the military police for his first two deployments and as a forward observer for field artillery in his third deployment.

“I enlisted September 1, 1987, and I was 17 years old. I returned to civilian life on September 14, 1996. My first deployment was in Central America to Panama.  My second deployment I returned to Central America in Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The year after that, I went to Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Following his 3rd deployment, he attended the Army Airborne School, Ranger Orientation Program and the Pre-Ranger course. So, I guess you could say I was busy,” said Blankenship.

Blankenship shares that it was trying for him for years after his service.

“I really avoided communicating with people and I isolated a lot. When I heard about This Able Veteran, I wasn’t sure if I should apply. I mean, it was out of my comfort zone to travel from Michigan to Carbondale, Illinois for three weeks to meet and live with people I didn’t know. I was extremely anxious and nervous,” he said.

The first positive turning point was when This Able Veteran assigned him a mentor.

“My mentor was Steve Medders who is a Vietnam veteran, and he would talk to me on the phone, and he painted a picture for me of what it would be like to attend. He shared his experience of going through the program and he settled me down a lot. I remember Steve was available 24/7 and he always let me call him anytime. He was extremely helpful and always told me that TAV was a safe, non-judgmental environment.  Due to the pandemic, we did pre-course sessions over Zoom and that allowed me to put a face to a name, rather than going into a new environment knowing no one,” said Blankenship.

Blankenship encourages other veterans suffering from PTSD to apply to This Able Veteran’s Trauma Resiliency Program.

“It is a life-changing program. The tools, friendships, camaraderie and esprit decor that you gain and the lessons you learn made it a win-win situation for me and for my family.

He shared that there were so many helpful tools taught in the classroom that he was oblivious to prior to attending.

“Before TRP, I had never considered the concept of living in the moment. I remained focused on the past and the future. Living in the moment and being impeccable with my word, works wonderous for me. Another aspect of the program that I hated at first was the morning walk. I didn’t enjoy it, but I kept at it and by the end of the class, that was one of the most valuable tools that I learned there,” said Blankenship.

He said that before TAV, he hadn’t been to a grocery store in ten years. Now, with Hollie at his side, he says he enjoys going shopping. He credits TAV for expanding his life and family relationships.

Blankenship says Hollie has enriched his life, especially because she shares his passion for fishing and that she is totally committed to the mission.

“When I participate in fishing tournaments, Hollie is my partner. She is on the boat and stays with me all day. She is a lover. And she loves the water. I’ll often toss a pheasant decoy off the dock so she can run and dive into the water. She lives for that,” said Blankenship.

If you would like to learn more about This Able Veteran and its mission, please visit thisableveteran.org. To learn how you can support This Able Veteran, visit https://thisableveteran.org/how-you-can-help/donate-now/

#veterans #nonprofit #veteranlove #servicedogs #donate #thisableveteran #ptsd






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Meet Eric Beach, This Able Veteran Graduate, and His Dog, Maddie

Eric Beach completed the Trauma Resiliency Program at This Able Veteran in the fall of 2014. At the end of the program, he was paired with his service dog, Maddie, and he says it has been an amazing adventure ever since. He and Maddy live in Milwaukee Wisconsin where Beach leads his non-profit organization, Project Echelon.

“We educate, equip, and empower veterans through physical activity and self-discovery. I also practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as I love the fight, and have a podcast called “Rest Rounds” where we apply lessons learned from physicality to our life and growth. I am also the in-home mentor for my two daughters.

Beach says his experience with This Able Veteran (TAV) was a catalyst for a completely new path in life.

“I remember early on, Behesha showing me a new way of viewing our life and our traumas. It was something I’d never heard, nor considered, but it resonated deeply. She had helped me see a core belief I had long held was incorrect. I told her this and she said, “If this belief wasn’t rooted in truth, what else isn’t?” Looking at life through the eyes of a dog, a wolf, a fellow traveler who has healed, I was free to question myself and my beliefs and begin the lifelong pursuit of understanding who I am and what I want. It was a lot to take on for me as I wasn’t comfortable expressing my confused thoughts to anyone lest I sound foolish! But with my dog Maddie, I could verbalize all the disjointed thoughts that made no sense so I could clear the mental fog and find clarity. She loved letting me talk it out because she’s always eager for connection. She leans in when others might lean out,” said Beach.

When asked how he would encourage other veterans who are considering TAV’s Trauma Resiliency Program, Beach instantly responded.

“First, ask yourself is what you’re doing working? Are you happy, capable of regulating your emotions, able to process grief, and don’t avoid people or situations because of potential triggers? If you’re not, then what you’re doing isn’t working. What I was doing wasn’t working and it got to be too much. I needed a new way to see myself and the world. Seeing life from this vantage point, and knowing now how much beauty I’ve discovered since Maddie has joined my life, my encouragement is always, how much longer do you need to suffer before you’ve paid your penance? You are the hero of your life story. You have the power to open to possibility and let new knowledge in. Go for it today, because tomorrow never comes,” he said.

Beach says Maddie has enriched his life in a variety of ways, but two stories quickly come to mind.

One, when I take Maddie in public, people ask questions. I wasn’t comfortable having social conversations with people I didn’t know, but I soon realized I wasn’t talking to people, I was speaking for Maddie. Sometimes I even speak in Maddie’s voice! She’s allowed me to bring some of my goofier side out and see its okay to talk with others.” said Beach.

He said that eventually, he found himself wanting to have the conversation and shift focus to me and the person. Maddie was the social lubricant I needed!”

Beach says the second story is something he still does from time to time.

“I give Maddie the command “Free” when she can break from her place or her “Stay” command. Sometimes she sits next to me when I say free but instead of running off, she pushes into me. She cuddles harder as if to say, “Boy, I’m already where I want to be,” said Beach.

When asked if there was anything else he would like to share with fellow veterans and/or service dog owners, Beach thoughtfully responds.

“A service dog is a partnership. They will help you take further healing steps. My path won’t match up to yours, but what I’ve discovered is Maddie met me where I was and helped me find the confidence to keep choosing growth daily because she was my confidant. Even nine years later, she’s right next to me, taking a quick nap while I type this, ready to sit with me, ready to hear from me, and ready to stay by my side when I say “Free.”

If you would like to learn more about This Able Veteran and its mission, please visit thisableveteran.org. To learn how you can support This Able Veteran, visit https://thisableveteran.org/how-you-can-help/donate-now/

#veterans #nonprofit #veteranlove #servicedogs #donate #thisableveteran #ptsd





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Massac Quilters Guild Raises Donations for This Able Veteran Six Years in a Row

The members of the Massac Quilter’s Guild have long believed in the power of giving back to others. Over the years, they have created a variety of items to help others — from pillowcase dresses, items for Lourdes Hospice, to pillowcases for area nursing homes.

“Those things were good,” said president Janet Mittendorf. “But we decided we wanted to do something that would make a bigger difference.”

The group decided that would be by helping veterans, but they weren’t sure how to find a local organization.

And then, Mittendorf attended a Red Hats Society meeting where This Able Veteran representatives were speaking and passing out brochures.

“I thought their program sounded amazing, so I contacted them,” Mittendorf said. “We decided we wanted to find a place that was helping veterans and we knew they were getting the help they need. We’ve found something and stuck with it.”

That was seven years ago since the partnership began. Since then, Massac Quilter’s Guild has made and raffled off quilts, raising thousands of dollars for the veterans’ organization. That latest donation was presented to This Able Veteran executive director Rebecca Renshaw on June 5.

The raffling of two quilts raised $2,442.80 during the 2023 AQS Paducah Quilt Show.

Those funds are used by This Able Veteran to train service dogs for U.S. military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Headquartered in Carbondale, This Able Veteran has been helping veterans since 2011. Serving veterans from around the country, it was founded by Behesha Doan, who is the organization’s training director and the owner of Extreme K-9. As a trauma survivor, Doan brings insight to how a correctly trained service dog, combined with a trauma resiliency program, can make a difference in the lives of those suffering from post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries and those with co-occurring substance abuse. Through This Able Veteran, Doan has developed a veteran-centric model of care that involves the veterans, their clinicians, the service dogs and This Able Veteran.

Renshaw explained the training program costs over $30,000 for each service dog as they get the service dogs as puppies to start training them right away. The dogs go home every night with a trainer and are specially trained for each veteran.

“There’s a very strenuous process we go through to select both the veterans and the dogs. Service dogs are selected based on their temperament, structural soundness, proven lineage of healthy genetics and several other qualifications. Veterans must fill out an online application to be considered for the program,” Renshaw emphasized.

“Once selected, we find out what they need,” Renshaw said. “We pair the dog with the veteran based on where the veteran lives, the veteran’s lifestyle, and the temperament of them both. We train that dog for that veteran specifically.”

During its almost 12-year history, This Able Veteran has graduated 80 pairs of dogs and veterans. The next class is set to graduate in late October.

“It’s a great thing to be a part of,” Mittendorf said.

Massac Quilter’s Guild members have already begun the work on the quilt they will be raffling off during the 2024 AQS Paducah Quilt Show. The fabric and other materials will be donated allowing proceeds to go to This Able Veteran. The members divvy up the work of each block and then put it all together by January.

“Ticket sales will begin in February. Tickets are $1 each and available from guild members or during the April quilt show, during which AQS allows us to sell tickets at the Julian Carroll Convention Center,” said Mittendorf.

The Massac Quilter’s Guild was organized in 1983 to encourage interest in all phases of quilting. The group meets the first Monday of the month at the Metropolis Community Center at 9:30 a.m. with doors opening at 9 a.m. Meetings are held the second Monday if the meeting day falls on a holiday.

“We’re a very small group, but we try to get a lot done,” Mittendorf said.

For more information on This Able Veteran, visit thisableveteran.org.

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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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