It is widely known that dogs have a therapeutic effect on our nerves and brain. Their presence has calmed people suffering from mental illness, given strength to hospital patients, and, perhaps most importantly, given our service men and women an outlet, a way to heal, from the atrocities of war.
Benito Olson has first-hand knowledge in this.
For a decade, Benito served as Navy Master at Arms Dog Handler. He was deployed on several life-threatening missions that earned him a Purple Heart, Joint Commendation Medal with Valor, and a Bronze Star of Valor, and left him with two shattered legs and a broken wrist. Neither the injuries nor awards, however, were powerful enough to erase the dark memories of those missions. One fateful mission in particular.
Benito was deployed at the same time as Jonas Kelsall (for whom The Jonas Project is named) in Afghanistan when Jonas was killed in action. He told us, “I was one of the guys who helped pack his belongings and go through the gear that made it back from the crash site.”
Upon returning home, Benito credits his canine companions with playing a vital role in his rehabilitation and healing. He moved to Texas and spent some time feeling lost, searching for his next mission in life. He realized, in stark contrast to his extensive knowledge of canine training and treatment, that the majority of the world was unaware of the best practices for their pets. He saw this time and again in overcrowded shelters and poorly-trained animals and knew that his career moving forward – just as it had been in the past – would be centered around man’s best friend.
Benito already knew about The Jonas Project, of course. “After hearing about this organization I just felt like I had to apply because Jonas was such an honorable man that anything created in his name would be just as amazing as he was.” Benito was proved right when he was accepted into the program and met John and Teri, Jonas’ parents, Kim, Jonas’ sister, and the network of incredible mentors and advisors they had placed around them.
Immediately, Benito set to work, armed now with the support of a community who knew exactly what it meant to try to build something out of the rubble. He needed the most help with finance and marketing, specifically as it applied to scaling his business. The resources available to him helped him to meet this goal. Benito’s company, Patriot Dog Training, is now expanding to offer boarding and daycare, two of the most highly-demanded services in his line of work.
That Benito had once helped Jonas and his family, and now Jonas and his family are helping him in return is a full-circle journey not lost on the Kelsalls or Benito. That is the NAVY way, that’s what attracted Jonas to it with such a focused passion when he was just 17 years old. A community of people with shared mission. A family. A brotherhood. An enduring belief that the people around you have your back. Benito and Jonas knew that.
Dogs aren’t just Benito’s career, they’re his life. On more than one occasion, they saved his life. “I think working with dogs played a huge role in my recovery,” Benito told us, “I know it will do the same for other veterans.”