Michael Jernigan’s retiring guide dog, Brittani, looks back on her years as a guide dog
Reprinted with permission from Southeastern Guide Dogs
Michael Jernigan is a Marine, and he’s seen a few things he can’t forget. I don’t care what they call it—PTSD or a bad day in the darkness—I just know when he needs me. I can feel his body heat rising and hear the edge in his voice. I can smell the stress, but he doesn’t know that. All he knows is that I’m there. And that’s when I put my head on his lap or back up into a hug. It’s my job to calm him down, but it’s more than that—it’s my mission. I was born to serve, and to be Mike’s guide dog, and that’s what I did best.
Remembering my early years, I want to give special thanks to Raymond Hurley, my Southeastern Guide Dogs trainer. Raymond taught me how to watch Mike’s back and keep him safe. Like the time we were in downtown Washington, DC crossing a street and Mike kept telling me “Forward,” and I refused to go. I body blocked him and then I heard some stranger tell him, “Dude, that’s awesome; that dog wouldn’t let you step in front of that car!” It was a silent electric car, nobody could hear it, and Mike didn’t see it. He never does. But that’s why I was there. Because of Raymond and Southeastern Guide Dogs, I saved Mike’s skin hundreds of times, and I loved every minute of it.
Over the past eight years, Mike and I traveled all over the country and met a lot of interesting people. I was fond of all of them, although I kept my manners when I met them in harness. I hate to be a namedropper, but I met Buccaneer Hall of Famer, Mike Alstott. I met Senator John McCain during the 2008 presidential election, and I met lobbyist and former Senator Fred Thompson. I met Admiral Bill McRaven from the Special Ops Command, and Vice Admiral Joseph Maguire. Let’s see, did I mention Kelsey Grammer? I met so many interesting people and honestly, they all loved me.
I’m also good at finding things. I’ve helped Mike find the door, the curb, the chair, the stairs, the elevator, the trash can, the urinal; you get the picture. If he needs to get there, I help him find it. We’re a team, and we never went anywhere unless we were together.
My farewell wouldn’t be complete without a tribute to this man who means the world to me. I’ve been calling him “Mike,” but you’ve got to know that he’s “Daddy” to me. Not Mike, not Michael, but Daddy.
Daddy, you’ve been my everything. When I’m with you, my world is good. You’re my best friend, my family, my idol. You’re magic to me. You gave me the best belly rubs, back scratches, and hugs. You gave me a life of adventure beyond my wildest dreams. Because of you, I’ve seen the world, and I’m glad I could see it with you—and for you. I’d give anything for you. I’d guide you to the moon and back, and if I had to choose between your safety and mine, I’d save you.
People may believe that I did so much for you, but they’ve got it all wrong. You’ve done so much for me. Because of you, I’ve had a wonderful, incredible, exciting, and meaningful life. I may be retiring as a guide dog, but I’ll never retire from loving my hero, Michael Jernigan. This has been a special operation, and now my main mission is coming to an end.
Brittani, Paws for Patriots Guide Dog™
Southeastern Guide Dog, Brittani recently retired from her career guiding, protecting, and supporting her handler, Cpl. Michael Jernigan (USMC, ret.) after eight wonderful years.
With Brittani by his side, Michael completed college at USF St. Petersburg, traveled the country and built a career aiding other veterans. Brittani retires to the home of family friends in St. Petersburg and will enjoy the remainder of her years as a beloved pet. As you read Brittani’s “remarks,” consider her impact on Michael’s road to recovery. And consider supporting Paws for Patriots™ to help other veterans like Mike find freedom and independence.
Join us during Friday’s lunch and General Session when Cpl. Michael Jernigan (USMC, ret.), Co-founder of Paws for Patriots™ will be talking about the Paws for Patriots program with his new guide dog by his side.