Sgt. 1st Class Mark Brummitt loves dogs. The former drill instructor not only trains soldiers, he trains dogs — mostly service dogs to help people with disabilities. It’s a part-time job and a passion.
While he and his family were watching Hinesville’s Illuminated Christmas Parade on Dec. 7, Brummitt briefly met a disabled veteran in a motorized wheelchair who was part of one of the veterans’ groups in the parade. The then-unidentified veteran expressed an interest in the service dogs Brummitt had with him.
“He asked if my dogs were service dogs and said he needed one,” Brummitt said. “After he went on by, I started thinking about how I could help him.”
Brummitt contacted the Coastal Courier for help in finding that disabled veteran. He was willing to train a service dog for free if the two of them could meet again.
Brummitt, his wife Sabra, daughter Tia, 9, and son Mark, 3, described the veteran in as much detail as they could remember. In addition to the motorized wheelchair and being part of a veterans group in the parade, they remembered the man was wearing a dark suit and hat like those worn by members of the Disabled American Veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion.
A quick search through the Courier’s photo archives found Walter Helmick, president of the DAV Chapter 46, riding behind a group of veterans carrying a Pearl Harbor Day banner.
“I remember talking to someone with two dogs,” Helmick said. “Yeah, I do need a service dog. I have a Labrador retriever, but I haven’t been able to train him to do very much.”
Helmick and Brummitt swapped phone numbers, and plans were made for Brummitt to train Helmick’s dog to provide the services he needs. Helmick said he is grateful to Brummitt for his offer and to the Courier for arranging for the two of them to meet again.
“I’m going to meet with Mr. Helmick (today),” Brummitt said. “I’ll see what he needs his Lab to do for him and begin training it. He’ll be able to control his dog on-leash or off-leash to help him around the house or whatever he needs a service dog to do.”
Brummitt said he will work with both Helmick and his dog for 20 weeks, which should be enough to get both master and dog trained sufficiently. He normally charges $100 a session, so 20 weeks of free training is a valuable offer.
Brummitt said the value of his offer is not what is important. He said he wants to help Helmick because he feels an emotional bond with disabled vets, having sustained several service-connected injuries himself during the 12 years he’s been in the Army.
“I’ve loved dogs all my life,” said Brummitt, a Kansas City, Mo. native who also helped his wife and children to become dog trainers. “When I was in junior high school, I used dog training as a science project, focusing on positive and negative re-enforcement.”
He said service dogs can provide a variety of functions beyond being guard dogs or sniffing out drugs and explosives. His German shepherd, Chaos, has been trained as an emotional-support dog and provides personal protection. Brutus, a bulldog mix that recently was rescued, is being trained to help him with hypersomnolence, a condition characterized by excessive sleepiness.
Because Chaos has been trained as an emotional-support dog with what Brummitt calls “lowered intensity,” he uses him to “stabilize” a new dog like Brutus, who came to him with serious emotional trauma. It’s not surprising one of Brummitt’s mentors is Cesar Millan of National Geographic Channel’s “The Dog Whisperer.”
“You can train a dog to do just about anything,” Brummitt said. “Dogs can even be trained to smell cancer. A dog can also be trained to detect when its owner is about to have a seizure and go for help when it’s needed.”