About Us

From the restless nights to the difficult situations, I have something that has been an elusive possibility…. I have hope again.
Ric and Wilfred

Graduated 2014

MISSION

Soldier’s Best Friend provides U.S. military veterans living with combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) with Service or Therapeutic Companion Dogs, most of which are rescued from local shelters. The veteran and dog train together to build a trusting relationship that saves two lives at once and inspires countless others.

We are devoted to helping our veterans living with combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). We also want to help the pet overpopulation problem.

GOAL

Soldier’s Best Friend is an Arizona-based 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. Our board and staff are comprised of war veterans, practicing PTSD therapists, professional service dog trainers, veterinarians, experienced nonprofit professionals, and many great volunteers. We are dedicated to pairing and training service dogs with veterans at no cost to the veteran.

MISSION

Soldier’s Best Friend provides U.S. military veterans living with combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) with Service or Therapeutic Companion Dogs, most of which are rescued from local shelters. The veteran and dog train together to build a trusting relationship that saves two lives at once and inspires countless others.

We are devoted to helping our veterans living with combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). We also want to help the pet overpopulation problem.

GOAL

Soldier’s Best Friend is an Arizona-based 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. Our board and staff are comprised of war veterans, practicing PTSD therapists, professional service dog trainers, veterinarians, experienced nonprofit professionals, and many great volunteers. We are dedicated to pairing and training service dogs with veterans at no cost to the veteran.

BOARD & OFFICERS

Jill Nelson

Jill Nelson

President

PROFILE

Jill has over 23 years of commissioned service in the Army and Air Force and retired as a colonel from the Arizona Air National Guard. She served on the board of directors of Mahnah Club of the East Valley, and as the vice chair of the Arizona Veterans Advisory Commission. She has held numerous leadership roles throughout her career and in her charitable contributions within the community. She volunteers in support of animal welfare causes and owns several rescued animals. She is passionate about Soldier’s Best Friend and the impact it makes in the lives of Arizona veterans and their families. 

John Burnham, DVM

John Burnham, DVM

Treasurer

PROFILE

John is the Founder of Soldier’s Best Friend (SBF). He is also the current Treasurer and Immediate Past President of the SBF board. Following the passing of his father in 2007, John had a desire to connect with something bigger. He wanted something more, something that engaged his military interests, honored his father, and allowed him to use his personal and professional talents to a greater degree in service to the community.

Through his practice, John worked with veterans and cared for their pets. He saw how the interaction with the animals helped returning veterans interact more comfortably in civilian environments and an idea was sparked. This idea was nurtured by study of institutional research that supported the therapeutic relationships that John was seeing first hand and by outreach to experts in the field of service animals, behavioral science, and veteran services. John knew there had to be a way to give more veterans the chance to experience the unconditional love and support that only a canine companion can bring. He also knew he had a unique opportunity to help reduce the number of homeless dogs living in local shelters. With this alignment of purpose, Soldier’s Best Friend became John’s dream and driving passion. With the support of his devoted wife and business partner, Jan Burnham, the organization became a reality.

John’s goal has been to assemble a team of committed volunteers military and civilian to help acquire, place and train the service dogs for our veterans at no cost to them. He also wanted to acquire many of the dogs through local rescue organizations thus helping our pet overpopulation problem.

John is a native Arizonan. He attended Northern Arizona University and Colorado State University where he obtained his doctorate of veterinary medicine. Dr. Burnham has been actively practicing veterinary medicine in Arizona since 1983. He is married with 2 adult sons.

Tobey Erskine

Tobey Erskine

Secretary

PROFILE

Tobey is currently the Secretary for Soldier’s Best Friend. She is Director of Corporate Communications at Kahala, Corp. Prior to that she was the Communications and PR Manager at Florence Crittenton in Phoenix.

Bob Cooper

Bob Cooper

Board Member

PROFILE

Bob was awarded a Bronze Star as an U.S. Army Infantry Sergeant in Vietnam. He retired from Corporate America as an Operations Executive for 40 years and subsequently was the CEO/President of his own successful businesses. As a veteran and dog lover, Bob couldn’t be more thrilled and supportive of Soldier’s Best Friend’s mission.

Steve Dow, DVM

Steve Dow, DVM

Board Member

PROFILE

Dr. Steve Dow, a veterinarian in Prescott, served as a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger Captain in Vietnam. After serving in the Army he attended University of Arizona for his undergraduate degree and then Colorado State University for his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Dow has previously served as a Governor-appointed member of the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board.

Kelly Finnell

Kelly Finnell

Board Member

PROFILE

Kelly spent 22 years at Boeing and recently retired as Vice President of Boeing Defense Supply Chain. She has prided herself on supporting our military branches through her work at Boeing and plans to continue her service by being an active member of the SBF board.

Kelly and her wife Mary live in Fountain Hills, Arizona and enjoy traveling, the outdoors, riding motorcycles, community service and loving their two rescue kitties; Roxie and Sprocket.

Beth Schryer

Beth Schryer

Board Member

PROFILE

Beth Schryer joined Boeing in 1996 and has been the Vice President of Facilities and Asset Management since March 2017. She is a member of the Enterprise Services Council, and a member of the Manufacturing, Supply Chain and Operations leadership team.

Beth completed her master of business administration at the University of Washington with an emphasis on strategy and organizational effectiveness. She is a graduate of Mills College in Oakland, CA, with a major in Economic Analysis and minor in Art History. Her first career was in fundraising where she worked for the YWCA in San Francisco.

Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her family which includes her husband and their identical twin girls.

Carrie Ostroski

Carrie Ostroski

Special Advisor to the Board

PROFILE

Carrie is currently serving as a Special Advisor to the Board for Soldier’s Best Friend. She is the Executive Director of the Dorrance Family Foundation. Carrie is a recognized leader in the philanthropic and business community and has over 12 years of executive level experience. She has directed and managed teams of high-level and executive community volunteers and leaders in strategic, business and event planning, as well as high-level fundraising and board development. Carrie is very excited to help SBF & to aid our military members readjust into civilian life.

Carrie was born and raised in Iowa and has lived in Phoenix, Arizona for over 20 years. She attended Arizona State University, where she graduated with a degree in psychology with a focus on organizational behavior.

Some of her professional and community affiliations past and present include Valley Leadership (graduate Class XXIV), Central Phoenix Women, Arizona Endowment Building Initiative, Planned Giving Roundtable of Arizona, Madison United Preservation Committee, and the University of Arizona Master Gardener program. Carrie also volunteers with conservation organizations and the University of Arizona Master Gardener program.

BOARD & OFFICERS

Jill Nelson

Jill Nelson

President

PROFILE

Jill has over 23 years of commissioned service in the Army and Air Force and retired as a colonel from the Arizona Air National Guard. She served on the board of directors of Mahnah Club of the East Valley, and as the vice chair of the Arizona Veterans Advisory Commission. She has held numerous leadership roles throughout her career and in her charitable contributions within the community. She volunteers in support of animal welfare causes and owns several rescued animals. She is passionate about Soldier’s Best Friend and the impact it makes in the lives of Arizona veterans and their families.

John Burnham, DVM

John Burnham, DVM

Treasurer

PROFILE

John is the Founder of Soldier’s Best Friend (SBF). He is also the current Treasurer and Immediate Past President of the SBF board. Following the passing of his father in 2007, John had a desire to connect with something bigger. He wanted something more, something that engaged his military interests, honored his father, and allowed him to use his personal and professional talents to a greater degree in service to the community.

Through his practice, John worked with veterans and cared for their pets. He saw how the interaction with the animals helped returning veterans interact more comfortably in civilian environments and an idea was sparked. This idea was nurtured by study of institutional research that supported the therapeutic relationships that John was seeing first hand and by outreach to experts in the field of service animals, behavioral science, and veteran services. John knew there had to be a way to give more veterans the chance to experience the unconditional love and support that only a canine companion can bring. He also knew he had a unique opportunity to help reduce the number of homeless dogs living in local shelters. With this alignment of purpose, Soldier’s Best Friend became John’s dream and driving passion. With the support of his devoted wife and business partner, Jan Burnham, the organization became a reality.

John’s goal has been to assemble a team of committed volunteers military and civilian to help acquire, place and train the service dogs for our veterans at no cost to them. He also wanted to acquire many of the dogs through local rescue organizations thus helping our pet overpopulation problem.

John is a native Arizonan. He attended Northern Arizona University and Colorado State University where he obtained his doctorate of veterinary medicine. Dr. Burnham has been actively practicing veterinary medicine in Arizona since 1983. He is married with 2 adult sons.

Tobey Erskine

Tobey Erskine

Secretary

PROFILE

Tobey is currently the Secretary for Soldier’s Best Friend. She is Director of Corporate Communications at Kahala, Corp. Prior to that she was the Communications and PR Manager at Florence Crittenton in Phoenix.

Bob Cooper

Bob Cooper

Board Member

PROFILE

Bob was awarded a Bronze Star as an U.S. Army Infantry Sergeant in Vietnam. He retired from Corporate America as an Operations Executive for 40 years and subsequently was the CEO/President of his own successful businesses. As a veteran and dog lover, Bob couldn’t be more thrilled and supportive of Soldier’s Best Friend’s mission.

Steve Dow, DVM

Steve Dow, DVM

Board Member

PROFILE

Dr. Steve Dow, a veterinarian in Prescott, served as a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger Captain in Vietnam. After serving in the Army he attended University of Arizona for his undergraduate degree and then Colorado State University for his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Dow has previously served as a Governor-appointed member of the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board.

Kelly Finnell

Kelly Finnell

Board Member

PROFILE

Kelly spent 22 years at Boeing and recently retired as Vice President of Boeing Defense Supply Chain. She has prided herself on supporting our military branches thru her work at Boeing and plans to continue her service by being an active member of the SBF board.

Kelly and her wife Mary live in Fountain Hills, Arizona and enjoy traveling, the outdoors, riding motorcycles, community service and loving their two rescue kitties; Roxie and Sprocket.

Beth Schryer

Beth Schryer

Board Member

PROFILE

Beth Schryer joined Boeing in 1996 and has been the Vice President of Facilities and Asset Management since March 2017. She is a member of the Enterprise Services Council, and a member of the Manufacturing, Supply Chain and Operations leadership team.

Beth completed her master of business administration at the University of Washington with an emphasis on strategy and organizational effectiveness. She is a graduate of Mills College in Oakland, CA, with a major in Economic Analysis and minor in Art History. Her first career was in fundraising where she worked for the YWCA in San Francisco.

Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her family which includes her husband and their identical twin girls.

Carrie Ostroski

Carrie Ostroski

Special Advisor to the Board

PROFILE

Carrie is currently serving as a Special Advisor to the Board of Soldier’s Best Friend. She is the Executive Director of the Dorrance Family Foundation. Carrie is a recognized leader in the philanthropic and business community and has over 12 years of executive level experience. She has directed and managed teams of high-level and executive community volunteers and leaders in strategic, business and event planning, as well as high-level fundraising and board development. Carrie is very excited to help SBF & to aid our military members readjust into civilian life.

Carrie was born and raised in Iowa and has lived in Phoenix, Arizona for over 20 years. She attended Arizona State University, where she graduated with a degree in psychology with a focus on organizational behavior.

Some of her professional and community affiliations past and present include Valley Leadership (graduate Class XXIV), Central Phoenix Women, Arizona Endowment Building Initiative, Planned Giving Roundtable of Arizona, Madison United Preservation Committee, and the University of Arizona Master Gardener program. Carrie also volunteers with conservation organizations and the University of Arizona Master Gardener program.

STAFF & TRAINERS

Brenda Meir

Brenda Meir

Executive Director

PROFILE

Brenda Meir is our Executive Director. She comes to us by way of the Arizona Veterinary Medical Association where she was the Assistant Executive Director. Her husband Gary is a Marine veteran. Brenda says there are connections for her to the SBF mission in several ways: her long marriage to a veteran, experience working with the veterinary community, nonprofit leadership and her love for dogs.

Kathy Sommer

Kathy Sommer

Executive Coordinator

PROFILE

Kathy, our Executive Coordinator, has been with Soldier’s Best Friend over five years. Prior to SBF, she worked most of her career in a customer service based industry where she found her passion in caring for other’s needs. From the time she was young she has loved animals and has been drawn to wanting to find a way to help them. She is now able to combine these two passions by being part of the Soldier’s Best Friend team.

Jim Coking

Jim Coking

Veteran Services Coordinator

PROFILE

Jim joins the SBF staff as our Veteran Services Coordinator. He grew up in Ohio, but moved to Phoenix and graduated high school in the Glendale area. Jim joined the Army, serving 4 years while stationed in Kansas, Korea, and a deployment to Panama during Operation Just Cause. Following the Army, Jim joined the Glendale Police Department. One of his favorite assignments was as a Police K9 Handler and later K9 trainer for the Police Department.

Allison Walker

Allison Walker

Lead Trainer

PROFILE

Allison works at Soldier’s Best Friend as our Lead Trainer. Allison began volunteering with rescue dogs in high school, then sanctuary horses in college, and finally found Soldier’s Best Friend in 2016 when she volunteered as an assistant trainer. She then joined our staff and has taken on the role of Lead Trainer, which will help us further develop our training program. She most enjoys helping veterans and their dogs learn to work and succeed as a team.

Sarah Eccleton

Sarah Eccleton

Adoption/Placement Coordinator

PROFILE

Sarah is our Dog Adoption/Placement Coordinator. Originally from Michigan, she moved to Arizona in 2012 for college and to train/compete with her own dogs. Starting at the age of seven, Sarah has worked with dogs on behavior issues, obedience, rally, conformation, agility, herding, and tracking. She is eager to help veterans by sharing her passion of dog training and behavior.

Savanah Tanner

Savanah Tanner

Event/Volunteer Coordinator

PROFILE

Savanah Tanner moved to Phoenix three years ago from Colorado. She holds a Master’s degree in Political Strategy/Communication and has a background in home health care and corporate event planning experience. Savanah has a deep passion for helping others and promoting organizations that make a difference in everyday lives. As a member of the SBF team, she looks forward to interacting with the veterans and their families at SBF events – as well as admiring the wonderful dogs that are making such a huge impact on people’s lives.

Rachael Ring

Rachael Ring

Bookkeeper

PROFILE

Rachael joined SBF in early 2017 as our bookkeeper. She comes from a management background in market research.

Rachael comes from a long line of service members in her family, which has always brought her tremendous pride.

Since an early age, Rachael has been an empathetic person and now she can combine her family pride, love of her country with her compassion for others by being part of the SBF team.

Amy Dixon

Amy Dixon

Administrative Assistant

PROFILE

Amy is an Arizona native, the spouse of a disabled veteran, and mother of two beautiful girls. She comes to us with over a decade of administrative experience, most of which is in the nonprofit sector. Amy loves animals, especially dogs. She is currently pursuing her dream of becoming a certified dog trainer.

Trainers

  • Jamie Barilla
  • Leslie Bryant
  • Karen Burleson
  • Carey Haas
  • Terri Hardison
  • Isabel Isaacson
  • Devan Johnson
  • Alicia Jones
  • Allison Walker

STAFF & TRAINERS

Brenda Meir

Brenda Meir

Executive Director

PROFILE

Brenda Meir is our Executive Director. She comes to us by way of the Arizona Veterinary Medical Association where she was the Assistant Executive Director. Her husband Gary is a Marine veteran. Brenda says there are connections for her to the SBF mission in several ways: her long marriage to a veteran, experience working with the veterinary community, nonprofit leadership and her love for dogs.

Kathy Sommer

Kathy Sommer

Executive Coordinator

PROFILE

Kathy, our Executive Coordinator, has been with Soldier’s Best Friend over two years. Previously, she worked most of her career in a customer service based industry where she found her passion in caring for other’s needs. From the time she was young she has loved animals and has been drawn to wanting to find a way to help them. She is now able to combine these two passions by joining the Soldier’s Best Friend team.

Jim Coking

Jim Coking

Veteran Services Coordinator

PROFILE

Jim joins the SBF staff as our Veteran Services Coordinator. He grew up in Ohio, but moved to Phoenix and graduated high school in the Glendale area. Jim joined the Army, serving 4 years while stationed in Kansas, Korea, and a deployment to Panama during Operation Just Cause. Following the Army, Jim joined the Glendale Police Department. One of his favorite assignments was as a Police K9 Handler and later K9 trainer for the Police Department.

Allison Walker

Allison Walker

Lead Trainer

PROFILE

Allison works at Soldier’s Best Friend as our Lead Trainer. Allison began volunteering with rescue dogs in high school, then sanctuary horses in college, and finally found Soldier’s Best Friend in 2016 when she volunteered as an assistant trainer. She then joined our staff and has taken on the role of Lead Trainer, which will help us further develop our training program. She most enjoys helping veterans and their dogs learn to work and succeed as a team.

Sarah Eccleton

Sarah Eccleton

Adoption/Placement Coordinator

PROFILE

Sarah is our Dog Adoption/Placement Coordinator. Originally from Michigan, she moved to Arizona in 2012 for college and to train/compete with her own dogs. Starting at the age of seven, Sarah has worked with dogs on behavior issues, obedience, rally, conformation, agility, herding, and tracking. She is eager to help veterans by sharing her passion of dog training and behavior.

Savanah Tanner

Savanah Tanner

Event/Volunteer Coordinator

Savanah Tanner moved to Phoenix three years ago from Colorado. She holds a Master’s degree in Political Strategy/Communication and has a background in home health care and corporate event planning experience. Savanah has a deep passion for helping others and promoting organizations that make a difference in everyday lives. As a member of the SBF team, she looks forward to interacting with the veterans and their families at SBF events – as well as admiring the wonderful dogs that are making such a huge impact on people’s lives.

PROFILE

Savanah Tanner moved to Phoenix three years ago from Colorado. She holds a Master’s degree in Political Strategy/Communication and has a background in home health care and corporate event planning experience. Savanah has a deep passion for helping others and promoting organizations that make a difference in everyday lives. As a member of the SBF team, she looks forward to interacting with the veterans and their families at SBF events – as well as admiring the wonderful dogs that are making such a huge impact on people’s lives.

Rachael

Rachael

Bookkeeper

PROFILE

Rachael joined SBF in early 2017 as our bookkeeper. She comes from a management background in market research.

Rachael comes from a long line of service members in her family, which has always brought her tremendous pride.

Since an early age, Rachael has been an empathetic person and now she can combine her family pride, love of her country with her compassion for others by being part of the SBF team.

Amy Dixon

Amy Dixon

Administrative Assistant

PROFILE

Amy is an Arizona native, the spouse of a disabled veteran, and mother of two beautiful girls. She comes to us with over a decade of administrative experience, most of which is in the non-profit sector. Amy loves animals, especially dogs. She is currently pursuing her dream of becoming a certified dog trainer.

Trainers

  • Jamie Barilla
  • Leslie Bryant
  • Karen Burleson
  • Carey Haas
  • Terri Hardison
  • Isabel Isaacson
  • Devan Johnson
  • Alicia Jones
  • Allison Walker