Jennifer Brown ’99 grew up thinking a team of horses would be required to pull her away from an equine veterinarian career. Although Brown thought she was not that strong in science during high school, her love of training horses and interacting with the animals propelled her to pursue a doctorate of veterinary medicine at WSU.

The heroism displayed during the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, however, introduced Brown to a new possibility. “During my residency, 9/11 happened,” Brown says. “That obviously made a big impression on many people and one of the things that impressed me was the work of the search and rescue dogs at the sites. I thought that was something I could get involved in later in my career.”

Jennifer Brown and a FEMA search and rescue dog
Jennifer Brown and a FEMA four-legged friend. (Courtesy USAR/FEMA)

A few years after Brown had taken a faculty position at Virginia Tech, she joined the Veterinary Medical Assistance Team, right before Hurricane Katrina impacted the Gulf Coast in 2005. “That was my first deployment, and I worked with the search and rescue dogs down there,” Brown says. “When I came back home after being deployed for five weeks for Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, I wanted to learn more about the dogs and how they trained and worked.”

A colleague of Brown’s on the VMAT introduced Brown to one of the local Urban Search and Rescue teams. Observing that training enabled Brown to get more involved with the search and rescue outfit as the team veterinarian who managed their canine care needs. “I said I would never be a dog handler because I just don’t have time for that,” Brown says. “Never say never, because now I have got five Urban Search and Rescue dogs.”

Brown got her first search and rescue dog, Phanesse, in 2009. She has FEMA-Certified Live Find dogs and a FEMA-Certified Human Remains Detection dog. Following her relocation to Florida in 2010, Brown transferred to Florida Task Force-2 where she serves as a canine search specialist and team veterinarian.

Most of Brown’s efforts have been after hurricanes, most recently in response to Hurricane Irma last September. She also deployed to North Carolina in response to Hurricane Matthew in 2016. A power plant building collapse in St. Petersburg, Florida, and an apartment fire in Temple Terrace marked local missions for Brown. “We don’t deploy frequently, which is good, because it has to be a major disaster for us to get deployed,” she says.

Equine surgery, emergency care experience, and her overall veterinary training helped Brown in disaster situations. In turn, that has helped Brown develop her canine sports medicine and rehabilitation practice.

Dogs used in sporting events make up a big part of Brown’s work—dogs who compete in field trials, agility, protection sports, and disc competitions. Brown also does rehab to assist dogs recovering from knee surgeries or other surgical procedures. Companion pets who have an injury or mobility issues are part of the practice, too.

The career has taken Brown from her hometown of Lynnwood across the country caring for both people and animals in times of need. “That is the beauty of veterinary medicine,” Brown says. “You are not confined to one thing. You might start as an equine surgeon, and you can go a different direction and still be successful.”