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If Brian Calvert has learned anything over the past decade it’s this: “Sometimes things don’t go as planned.” A house fire and a hunting accident brought him where he is today.
By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes, firstname.lastname@example.org
She’s toured the globe, been kissed by babies, snuggled by veterans, and photographed with celebrities and everyday people. She has more than 12,000 Instagram followers, and posts dozens of events on her Facebook page.
Dixie the Praying Dog is a celebrity in her own right. Her owner also sees Dixie as a therapy dog for himself and others.
Dixie came into Brian Calvert’s life six years ago as a pup. She traveled cross country with one of Calvert’s friends and was delivered to his Camby, Ind. home wrapped in a camouflage blanket. It wasn’t the dog he first chose. Through a mix-up, the breeder had given away his first pick of the Bluetick Coonhound litter. But the mix-up turned out to be just another unexpected event that worked out in the long run.
On Sept. 28, 2012, Calvert lost his Camby home and two of his dogs - including a Bluetick - to a fire. He rebuilt his home on the property and had in the back of his mind the gentleness of that breed. A year later, on Oct. 8, 2013, Calvert was in a deer stand, cutting branches for the upcoming hunting season, when he fell 18-feet to the ground. Alone in the woods, he knew he had to rally and find help. He crawled to his ATV, drove to the road and flagged down a county highway worker. He was transported by ambulance to IU Health Methodist Hospital where he suffered a collapsed lung, broken ribs, broken clavicle, bruised kidney, and a concussion. He remained hospitalized for two weeks.
“I remember so well how nice the nurses were. I was in so much pain and I knew I wasn’t the best patient,” said Calvert, 49. After his release, Calvert began looking for a dog that he could offer up to others - someone to give them hope.
“My neighbors were volunteers with Honor Flights and I thought it would be great if I could train a dog to somehow honor veterans,” said Calvert. That’s when “Dixie the Praying Dog” was born.
As a puppy, Calvert trained Dixie to put her paws together in a praying stance. He now says, “Downward Dog,” and she assumes the pose. When he tells her to “thank the veterans” she barks.
“I’ve recovered from my fall for the most part but the doctors tell me I have some PTSD from my collapsed lung and Dixie acts as my therapy dog,” said Calvert, who works as a truck driver.
Since her introduction, Dixie has traveled on numerous Honor Flights dedicated to transporting United States military veterans to Washington, D.C. to tour various war memorials. From the day she arrived at Calvert’s home wrapped in camouflage, the military apparel - along with an American flag - has become her signature.
Dixie has traveled to various US States and outside the United States to such places as Mexico, Ireland, Austria, Italy, Switzerland, and France. Her social media account is filled with photos of Dixie sitting in a mini car leading a parade with the Gordon Pipers with a line of veterans. Her photos show her in front of Lucas Oil Stadium, Lucas Oil Estates, posing with Disney princesses, bowing at car shows, concerts, athletic events, festivals, and fundraisers. She has made countless media appearances, including a “leading character” on “Mayberry Man.” She and Calvert appeared on billboards promoting the Amazon Original “The Pack Twelve.” They were one of the human-dog teams that ventured through various continents to compete a number of challenges.
But most of her time is spent pouring out love for veterans and her owner. Dixie has been Calvert’s faithful companion through career changes, relationship breakups, and a pandemic.
Since his accident, Calvert spends time speaking at hunter education courses talking about safety measures - including the importance of using harnesses in tree stands.
“I tell people that Dixie is my full-time job,” said Calvert. “It doesn’t pay in money but in other ways. She’s my best friend and she’s given back to lots of people. The key to a therapy dog is making others smile.”