Seven-year-old Labrador Retriever Porsche and owner-breeder Dr. Jennifer Brown have very serious jobs. Porsche is a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Urban Search and Rescue (SAR) Certified Live Dog, which means that when deployed, she must find living people who are trapped in a disaster. But there’s still time for some fun and games. An avid Disc Dog competitor with handler Gary Duke, Porsche participated in this year’s AKC Disc Dog Challenge, presented by The Farmer’s Dog in Rock Hill, South Carolina.
From a Family of Search and Rescue Sport Dogs
Dr. Brown is a veterinarian specializing in sports medicine and rehabilitation. She got involved in disaster response during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, treating search and rescue dogs and getting involved with local teams to provide veterinary care in the area. But becoming a dog owner herself, much less a breeder, was never something she considered.
“I was never going to get a dog, ever. I [thought], I don’t have time for that, I’m too busy as a veterinarian,” she said. “Now, five search and rescue dogs later and breeding search and rescue dogs, never say never.”
Her clients shared their passion for dog sports with her, which got her involved in the disciplines and led her to Disc. It started with Porsche’s mother, Phinesse, who not only is a SAR dog but also became Dr. Brown’s segue into Disc Dog. Along with Phinesse and Porsche, her Labs Phame and Phierce also play when they’re not deployed on SAR missions.
“Search and rescue is unique,” she says. “We are obviously very intense about it because it’s a life-and-death type situation, but I don’t think [the dogs] are comprehending that necessarily. To them, it’s a game of hide and seek, and they do it with joy regardless of the stressful situation.”
Dr. Brown breeds her Labrador Retrievers to be working dogs. Since they are bred to retrieve, SAR comes naturally to them. Whether it’s SAR, Disc, Hunt Tests, or Field Trials, she says that they like to work, and do nearly anything you ask them to do.
Finding the Right Handler
While she enjoyed Disc Dog and found purpose in the sport SAR, Dr. Brown also looked for another outlet for them. “Every dog needs a hobby as well as their job,” Dr. Brown says. “[Porsche]’s always been very talented at everything she’s done.” Dr. Brown doesn’t consider herself the best Disc player, but she luckily found Duke at just the right time.
Duke began playing Disc Dog in 2005, about the same time Dr. Brown began her work in disaster response. Duke met Dr. Brown after bringing his own dogs to her for rehabilitation, and they quickly became good friends. By this time, Phinesse, Dr. Brown’s original Disc Dog, was already getting too old to do many competitions and train together.
“She was an absolute fris-beast,” Duke says. “All of her offspring have turned out to be really versatile, not just with the Disc, but also doing agility. Then the best accomplishment, I think, is that all of them are certified search and rescue dogs that have been deployed to a number of different disasters.”
In just four years of competing with Duke as her handler, Porsche has earned her AKC Disc Dog Unobtanium title. “It’s pretty awesome that these dogs, while they’re so serious and nose-to-the-ground doing the things they can do during search and rescue, that they can turn it around and go out and chase a piece of plastic and have a great time,” Duke says.
Continuing to Do What They Love
For Dr. Brown, the Disc community and her dogs’ love for the sport keep her coming back for more. “It’s another fun thing to do with my dogs, because I have fun, too. The community is very welcoming and low-key.” But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t get competitive. “I love my search and rescue work, but I like to have other fun things I can do with [my dogs] as well.”
And Porsche and her clan won’t be slowing down anytime soon if they can help it. “They absolutely love to go and play and chase the disc,” says Duke of Dr. Brown’s dogs. “That I can put it out there and let them showcase that ability is pretty awesome.”
Dr. Brown says that their goal is always to win when attending competitions like the Disc Dog Championship, but it’s more about them having fun. “Of course, we’re in it to win it, and we’re hoping great things, but we’re mostly just going out there and having fun,” she says. “It’s an honor to be invited, and I’m excited to see [Porsche] hopefully be successful, or at the very least, give everyone a run for their money.”