Marine Sgt. (ret) Patrick Brown and Drea, his 3-year-old service dog, practice the “take it” command, where she picks up a stick (which Brown is holding) and is commanded not to chew it.
Brown’s stirring story had plenty of twists since being seriously injured in an explosion in Afghanistan in 2011 and since undergoing 62 surgeries. He returned stateside to Bethesda Naval Hospital soon afterward, where he was treated inpatient and outpatient through 2015 with a family member living in nearby quarters from 2013-2015.
In 2013, he began considering a service dog but a resident program utilized only Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers. “My heart was set on a German Shepherd,” he emphasizes.
It was not until he retired in 2015 and came to live with his parents, James and Susan Brown, on three acres in Chesapeake, Virginia, did that begin to appear to be a solid option.
Drea seems to be saying, “I’m ready to go see Brooke” (Mutts With A Mission founder and head trainer Brooke Corson) before a training session. Photo courtesy Patrick Brown.
Patrick and Drea’s journey was a bit different for the organization, where others usually handle the puppy raising, then turn the eventually well-socialized dog back to Mutts With A Mission for finishing and matching up with a recipient. Corson and Brown worked together from Day 1 to graduation two years later at the Assistance Dogs International accredited facility.
“Patrick was very good about attending training classes several times a week,” adds Corson. “Hence, he wanted to make certain he was raising Drea correctly. Life with a puppy can be challenging and adding a life-changing disability to the mix makes it even more so. Patrick had a terrific attitude during training and the two have grown together into a great working team.”
Drea is a Greek girl’s name, meaning courageous or daring, which Corson chose because it fit Brown’s long battle back from amputations following an explosion during a special mission in Afghanistan in 2011, his second deployment. “It’s a perfect fit,” smiles Brown.
Brown and Drea hang out at Jumping For a Purpose in Suffolk, Virginia, an event that gives wounded veterans an opportunity to sky dive. Brown wears his favorite T-shirt given to him by a friend, Tyler Southern, while he was at Bethesda Naval Hospital. The back of the shirt reads: “I had a blast in Afghanistan” with a bright red, yellow and white incendiary bomb explosion highlighted within the passage. Photo courtesy Renice Zimmerman
Brown and his German Shepherd mate hang out on the couch at home after a long day of running errands. Photo courtesy Patrick Brown.
So what’s the daily regimen for Brown and Drea?
“As I get moving in the morning, Drea is fed and enjoys some downtime playing ball. After that the vest is put on and she reverts from a playful partner to a 3-year-old service dog.”
One of her most memorable assists Brown adds, came when his wheelchair hit a crack in a parking-lot pavement and the owner tumbled out. “It rolled just out of reach so I told her to ‘get chair.’ She took hold of the tug handle on the chair that was added just for this situation and pulled it over to me. Without her, I could not have reached the chair and would have needed to wait until help arrived,” he recalls with tender reminiscence.
At home, Drea is the only pet, although Brown’s sister, Harley, and her boyfriend, Henry Murach, have two dogs that visit on occasion. Murach’s 9-year-old terrier mix Rosco and Drea are the best of tug-of-war buddies. “It’s the perfect outlet for Drea after a full day of working alongside me,” Brown concludes.