Kimberly Rios, associate professor of psychology, teaches Psychology of Religion, or PSY 3530, and she is constantly finding ways to engage and educate her students on the different perspectives of religion in the everyday world.
During the pandemic, when Rios decided to teach the course, she found herself binge-ing a new series on Amazon Prime: The Pack. The Pack is about 12 owners and their dogs going on global adventures around the world to win challenges. Throughout the series, the owners showcase their relationship with their furry friends.
Rios instantly fell in love with one of the teams: Dixie and her owner, Brian Calvert. Calvert and Dixie reside in Camby, Indiana, and have captured the hearts of many viewers of the show with their backstory and inalienable bond. Something that really stuck out was Dixie’s signature pose of praying whenever her owner says “Pray,” coining her the name “Dixie The Praying Dog.”
Rios knew she had to meet the dynamic duo and bring them to Athens. She said the topics she taught in class, like the functions religions serve for people in their everyday life, how religion can be useful or positive for individuals and how religion can be used to make connections, correlated with the work Calvert was doing with Dixie.
“In some of the material that I had read about Dixie and Brian, after the show aired, it seemed like Brian had a compelling backstory about why he became religious and why he decided to touch other people's lives by teaching Dixie how to pray,” Rios said.
Calvert had lost his home, everything he owned and three of his dogs in a house fire nine years ago. Right before the house fire, Calvert had just lost his job of 16 years due to an injury inflicted by a hunting accident.
“I thought there's no point in sulking and pouting about stuff: let's do something positive,” Calvert said. “I absolutely love dogs. I love helping people. I love veterans. I love helping kids, however I can do it. Mentally, when I was ready, I wanted to get another dog and turn it into a therapy dog to help kids and help veterans. That was my goal.”
After a couple of years and some research, Calvert met someone who lived in South Carolina raising bluetick coonhounds. However, when trying to adopt one of the dogs, Calvert ran into a problem: the original dog he had wanted was accidentally given away. Calvert ended up taking the only female dog the person had left, and he named her Dixie.
Calvert said it was fate the way he ended up with Dixie.
“She helped me,” Calvert said. “I got her to help other people, but definitely in the last couple years, I've realized she's helped me just as much as she's helped everybody else.”
Together, Calvert and Dixie have been able to connect with veterans around the country through the Honor Flight, bringing joy and happiness to veterans and others. Through Dixie’s kind spirit, she learned her memorable trick of “praying” to show respect to veterans.
“I say ‘Dixie, pray.’ She goes down and prays,” Calvert said. “I say ‘Amen.’ She gets up, and then she sits down, and I salute her. And I'm like, ‘OK say thank you, veterans.’ She barks it out. We started doing that the first year with Honor Flight, and everybody on our flight fell in love with her.”
Calvert and Dixie have worked hard to do the most good they can. They have participated in parades, visited the Veterans Affairs hospital and nursing home and have been able to bring smiles to countless numbers of people.
For some students like Kayla Pintar, a sophomore studying psychology, learning about real-world experiences and meeting real-world heroes is important.
“It gives us a real-world example,” Pintar said. “I feel like a lot of things we wouldn't normally see until we're (in) grad school or higher-level education in the real world.”
On Wednesday, Calvert and Dixie will be hosting a meet and greet at Jackie O’s Brewpub, 24 W. Union St., from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Everyone is welcome to come socialize and meet “Dixie The Praying Dog” and her owner.
“I just love to share with people and let people see how good of a dog she is,” Calvert said. “Making people smile, that's her job is to make people smile. That's a big part of our meet and greets.”