Brian Calvert & Dixie the Praying Dog Star on Hit Amazon Prime Show
Photography / Amy Payne
Brian Calvert and his blue tick coonhound Dixie the Praying Dog are not only local celebrities, but they also recently starred on Amazon Prime’s hit show, “The Pack,” an adventure reality show for dogs and their humans. As Calvert and Dixie drive around Hendricks County in his Jeep, they bring joy and smiles everywhere they go, regularly receiving waves and requests for photos.
But no one could have guessed the beginning of their story began with heartbreak.
In 2012, Calvert was at work driving his semi when he got a call from his neighbor that something was wrong at his house. There was a burn mark on the side of his home, and they could smell smoke. Calvert drove straight home from his route in northern Indiana, telling his neighbor to bust down the fence and get his three dogs out of the home.
But when he finally arrived, Calvert’s best friend stopped him, saying his beloved dogs didn’t make it. Ruger, a German short-haired pointer, Bristol, a coonhound German Shepherd mix, and Merle, a runaway dog he had rescued just a couple days before, all passed from smoke inhalation.
“Merle had two days of a great life,” Calvert says.
Many reached out to help, but Calvert was receiving more than he needed and was getting his home rebuilt with insurance. He encouraged people instead to donate to Operation Happy Tails, a non-profit that helps people and pets in need.
That’s just who Calvert is: always thinking of ways to help others.
Six months later, once his house was rebuilt, Calvert threw a party, inviting friends and family over. He even brought the cremated remains of his dogs back home in cherry boxes, putting them in a safe place.
It didn’t take long for life to take another dramatic turn. On October 8, 2013, Calvert was deer hunting in Stilesville. He went deep into the woods to cut a limb down that was near his tree stand when the branch under his foot broke and he fell headfirst to the forest floor.
“I broke my clavicle, every rib on my right side, and two vertebrae and got a collapsed lung on the right side,” Calvert says. “I couldn’t breathe, and my insides were burning. Something told me if I stayed there, I was dying.”
He mustered his strength, and through the pain, dragged himself back to his four-wheeler and drove himself to the half mile to the road. The County Highway Department happened to be there, and immediately called 911.
Calvert was in the intensive care unit for six days with a chest tube draining his blood. After two weeks in the hospital, he came home to recover. But he was alone.
“The neighborhood women took turns bringing me dinner and checking on me,” Calvert says. “But one friend from church finally told me, ‘It’s time.’ I had too many close calls. It was time to get baptized.”
It was also time to find his purpose. Calvert’s passion is helping veterans and kids, and his dream was to train a dog to help him do that. It was time to find his next companion, and he knew he needed a dog that could be certified as a therapy dog and work well with people.
Remembering how his last coonhound Bristol was such a good dog, Calvert decided to find one like her: a dog that could also double as a tracking dog for his hunting trips. He finally decided on a pup from Blue Tick One Kennels in North Carolina.
Calvert had a trainer help him with Dixie from day one in his home, training and getting her used to all kinds of situations. Calvert took her out whenever he could: to Lowe’s, Menard’s, outdoor expos, etc.
“I knew my game plan was to help veterans and maybe make her a therapy dog,” Calvert says. I wanted to teach her a cool pose so we could take pictures with veterans and kids, so I started working with her on her praying pose.”
Dixie’s claim to fame is to pose in downward dog for a prayer for photos and during prayers for veterans at events. Her signature howl and charming goggles made her recognizable everywhere she goes.
“I say, ‘Dixie, pray,’” and she drops down, we pray, and I say ‘Amen and salute the veterans,’ then she barks it out,” Calvert says.
Calvert and Dixie partner with Indy Honor Flights, escorting veterans onto the plane, praying for them, and then getting off before the plane leaves.
“I’ve just always loved veterans,” Calvert says. “I have always loved this country, I love being an American, and this is the perfect way for us to thank them for their service.”
They also participate in the Miracle Ride for Riley, visit nursing homes, partner with the Humane Society, attend cancer benefits, go to Police National Night Out, and have even participated in drive through birthdays for kids and veterans.
“We help anyone and everyone who asks,” Calvert says. “Nothing is out of the ordinary for us to be asked to do.”
And out of the ordinary was exactly what happened at the end of 2019. Calvert noticed a casting call for a new show on Amazon Prime asking for people and their adventurous pets. Calvert knew Dixie was special, so he decided to send an email to the contact.
A few online zoom meetings later, Calvert found himself and Dixie on a flight to LA that October for three days to meet the casting company and producers. It was top secret, and he was not allowed to travel or explore at all as he was ushered around by security guards with walkie-talkies, leading him from hotel room to meetings and back to his hotel room.
“The producers just loved us,” Calvert says. “They loved her story, what we do, why we do it. We had them laughing, and I was just being myself in my camo cutoff shirt and my hat.”
The next few months involved many meetings, interviews, and tests. He finally got a call just after Christmas from one of the producers and asked if Calvert wanted to be on a show. The second week of January, he and Dixie flew to Los Angeles for the start of their adventures.
“It was wild,” Calvert says. “I kept a journal; there was just so much stuff that would blow people’s minds.” Before the show even started, he and the other contestants who were chosen practiced many things, such as zip lining with their dogs and riding trucks and helicopters. He got to meet superstars such as Lorraine Lewis, Dennis Rodman, Jeanie Buss (owner of the L.A. Lakers), and of course the host of the show, former American World Cup alpine ski racer and first American woman to win the gold medal in downhill skiing at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Lindsay Vonn.
The show kicked off by shutting down an entire freeway in Los Angeles to film the opener. Following that, Calvert ziplined out of the clock tower from the classic movie Back to the Future with Dixie attached to his hip.
Calvert didn’t even learn about the cash prize for winners until he began filming. The prize was $500,000 plus $250,000 donated to a favorite dog-related charity of the winner. For Calvert, that was easy: Central Indiana K9 Association.
Calvert filmed the show for four months, and he traveled to multiple countries: Mexico, Costa Rica, Ireland, New York, Austria, Italy, and Switzerland. World events took place during filming, including the onset of the pandemic. Although it affected travel somewhat, they were able to continue filming. Tasks included searching cities for clues, completing challenges, and working as a team to be the first pack finished with each task.
To find out how far Calvert and Dixie made it, viewers can tune in to all 10 episodes of “The Pack” on Amazon Prime.
“It was unbelievable,” Calvert says. “I hardly get out of my own state that much, and not only did I get to go around the world, I got to take my best friend with me.”
Even on the whirlwind adventure, Dixie was always “on,” comforting those who needed it and bringing joy to others. During shooting, one of the dog trainers on set, Nicole, learned her father had passed away.
“I took Dixie off her leash, and she went right up to Nicole and did her thing,” Calvert says. “Nicole sent me a message just the other day that Dixie comforting her was one of the most impactful moments of her time there.”
The pandemic kept the show from having a typical red-carpet event, so Calvert did his own at a friend’s bar in Camby. He invited family and friends, raised money for charity, and decorated it with a red carpet, red velvet ropes, and lights just like a real Hollywood party.
“The bar was packed, we kept it at the safe cutoff number for Covid, had a police escort and a military Jeep,” Calvert says. “We raised $1,500 in one night.”
Truth be told, Dixie is no stranger to the red carpet. She starred in the upcoming movie Mayberry Man, which was partly filmed in Danville, Indiana. Keep up with Calvert and Dixie via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. They even have a Cameo account where users can get a personalized video from Calvert and Dixie.
When asked why he does what he does with Dixie, Calvert’s answer is short and to the point.
“We want to help,” Calvert says. “I may not have a bunch of money to donate, but I’ve got a dog, and that’s almost better than money.”