Drago -- German Shepherd, Red Sox Groundskeeper, Guardian Angel

May 14, 2019 Written by: Aiden Doane

When Dave Mellor’s father died while he was just three years old, Dave’s older brother stepped up to help raise him and in doing so became a source of stability and comfort throughout his childhood years. The two were incredibly close, and Dave’s brother always assured Dave that whenever he died he would come back as a dog so the two could still be together.

Dave’s brother passed away in 1998, and on May 9, 2014, he made good on his pledge. That day, Dave had finally welcomed his new service dog, Drago, into his life, and at their first vet visit Drago’s microchip revealed that his birthday was the same as Dave’s brother. For Dave, there’s no doubt that Drago is a promise fulfilled. And while Dave and Drago seem to be a match (literally) made in Heaven, the road to finding one another is rife with hellish trauma.

Dave was a talented baseball player growing up, and his goal was to play in the major leagues, just like his grandfather. But a month after graduation from high school, in 1981, he was hit by a car, shattering both his leg and his dreams to go pro. Dave spent the next two and a half years rehabbing his leg and relearning to walk, all the while enduring terrifying flashbacks and nightmares that just wouldn’t stop. 

Dave’s family encouraged him to find a new passion and figure out how to move on with his life. Dave was still mad at the world, but he realized they were right. These challenges, both physically and emotionally, were a detour rather than a roadblock, and it was time to find a new path to work through his pain.

Dave knew he still loved baseball, and he was also interested in science and had plenty of experience mowing and keeping lawns from his summers as a teenager, so he decided to get an Agronomy degree and put those skills to work. He landed his first groundskeeping job with the Milwaukee Brewers and began his career and then his family, marrying Denise and having two daughters. He was happy, but he was still tormented by his symptoms. Scared his family wouldn’t understand, Dave kept his pain a secret. 

Improbably, Dave was struck by another car during his time in Milwaukee in 1995, and while he remained steadfast in his courage to rehab again physically, he wasn’t able yet to face the added mental anguish that came along with the new injury. This second accident only increased his flashbacks and nightmares in frequency and intensity, but Dave worked hard to continue hiding his problems, fearing it showed weakness to ask for help and not wanting to burden his wife and kids. 

Dave suffered in silence until September 23, 2010, when he picked up a magazine in a doctor’s waiting room and read an article on PTSD. Before he encountered the article, he thought PTSD was something only veterans dealt with, but after reading the list of symptoms that accompany the condition he realized he was actively dealing with all but two.

This realization was terrifying, but it also gave Dave hope. Nearly 30 years after he began experiencing the horrific effects of this disorder, he finally had a name for it. And with that, options for treatment. Armed with this knowledge, Dave was able to come clean to Denise, and she drove him to the hospital to begin counseling the very next day.

Today, Dave and Drago are inseparable. Not only is Drago a mainstay at Fenway Park, where Dave has served as the Red Sox’s head groundskeeper since 2001, he has become Dave’s source of stability and comfort in adulthood -- just like Dave’s brother promised. Drago, a seven-year-old German Shepard, helps with Dave’s mobility issues from his many injuries and is also trained to alert Dave to PTSD triggers and to interrupt nightmares. He has also been fully embraced by the Red Sox players, joining Dave on the field for practices and games clad in his protective Rex Specs, riding in the World Series parade, and even having puppies adopted by former second baseman Ian Kinsler and pitcher Rick Procello.

One of the realities of Dave’s job is that he regularly gets to see large crowds of people all in one place. When he looks up in the stands at Fenway, he is struck by the fact that every person sitting in one of the 37,000 seats is going through something, and he has made it his life’s mission to try and normalize and celebrate the incredibly hard decision to ask for help. Dave wrote a book, One Base at a Time: How I Survived PTSD and Found My Field of Dreams, to share his story and help encourage others who need to hear it. It is available for pre-order now on Amazon and will go on sale June 11, 2019.

While Dave and Drago’s spiritual connection is no doubt eternal, Dave is keenly aware that their Earthly time together is limited. Dave is already training another of Drago’s puppies, Keeper, to pick up his service when the time comes, and in addition to immortalizing their story in his book, this year Dave plans to go ahead and preserve Drago’s special legacy in another way -- with his paw print tattooed over his heart. This wasn’t just any tattoo though, Dave was able to encapsulate Drago’s DNA into the ink, a technology made available by a company called Everence.

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