Today, Megan Leavey has what some New Yorkers may consider a dream job: a sales account executive position with the New York Yankees.
She has a normal 9 to 5 schedule, except on game days when she stays at the stadium a little later, after which she goes home to her dog Patriot and two cats.
In 2005, she faced a radically different kind of day. Leavey was a 22-year-old Marine corporal deployed in Iraq, focused on the tasks of finding explosives before they could cause harm. It was dangerous, stressful and high-pressure work, which was made a little easier by her constant companion, Rex the bomb-sniffing and patrol dog.
It is the bond between the Marine veteran and Rex that is the focus of the film Megan Leavey, starring Kate Mara in the title role. Megan Leavey follows the young Marine through training with Rex, their two deployments in Iraq and the explosion that tore them apart. After a receiving a Purple Heart and a honorable discharge, Leavey dedicated her efforts on bringing Rex, her partner and best friend, back into her life.
Over the next four years she kept up to date on Rex, who was deemed non-deployable after Leavey’s second trip to Iraq but was still used in training at California’s Camp Pendleton, in an effort to be the one who got to adopt Rex when he retired.
“I hope people take away the message, don’t give up on something that you love. If you have a certain feeling stick with it,” Leavey told PEOPLE on what she felt the message of the film she inspired is. “Look what happened, I ended up getting Rex back, but it took four years. Four years is a long time to not give up on something that affects what you feel everyday. I feel strongly about it. It was a hard time for me in my life and I think getting Rex back helped with a lot of issues and gave me closure that I was able to give him a great rest of his life. That means a lot to me.”
Unfortunately, Rex will not be able to join Leavey in experiencing the “weird feeling” of having his life on the big screen, the German shepherd passed away in 2012, but he left an immortal mark on Leavey.
“We were together all the time. Whenever I was going through hard times, he was the one constant in my life who was there. All the stuff I was going through personally he was always right there, no judgement,” Leavey said about her time working with Rex.
The duo was paired together shortly after Leavey entered the Marines’ canine school, an elite program that pulls from the top five percent of military classes. As a lifelong animal lover, Leavey was thrilled to enter the program she worked so hard to get into and was motivated to be the best partner possible to Rex, an experienced, dual-certified working dog.
“Rex was a dual certified dog, which means he was a bomb detection dog first of all. He was trained to sniff out a bunch of different explosives. He was also a patrol dog, which means he does the attack work as well. He can do either or at any given time,” Leavey explained, adding that Rex’s skills encouraged her to “get on his level.”
After their two deployments to Iraq in 2005 and 2006, Leavey felt lost without the canine partner she knew as her one steadfast companion for the past few years. This ache encouraged her to start work on the long process of adopting Rex once he retired.
“I always kept tabs on what he was up to and who his new handler was. The whole process of having these dogs adopted out, is a necessary process, and I understand it,” she said. When I left Camp Pendleton, Rex was only 6 years old, and that’s not that old in working dog standards. They are a lot of money to train and you can’t just be giving dogs away because people missed them. I always understood there was going to be some sort of time that I would have to wait.”
After waiting four years, fighting throughout those months to be the one who gave Rex a forever home, Leavey and her loyal companion were reunited at his retirement ceremony and left together.
“It was amazing, I was so happy,” Leavey recalled, and she is confident it is a feeling that all animal lovers will be able to relate to when they see the film version of her story.
Megan Leavey premieres in theaters nationwide on June 9.