PROFILE: Jim Brown

September 17, 2021
By T Michele Walker

Jim Brown is our local Boca Grande Arrow Pest Control man, a Vietnam Veteran, proud husband and father, and a passionate breeder of Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. You can also add to that list that he’s one heck of a storyteller.

Jim and his wife Karen have been raising Chesapeakes since 1998. While they love all of their fur babies, their Chessie, Jack was especially special.

“Jack was the eighth puppy in a litter of 11 Chesapeakes, and he stood out from the very beginning,” recounted Jim. “As we watched them grow, we noticed that Jack had a little more ‘attitude’ than the other pups. He would come out, be friendly but then he’d disappear. Eventually, his brothers and sisters found their new homes and Jack found us.”

Jack was Jim’s buddy. Inseparable, they would go quail hunting at local preserves, but never duck hunting. After all, this is Florida and Jim was understandably afraid of alligators in the freshwater.

For several years, Jim and his good friend, Rich Scheffer talked about taking Jack duck hunting. Rich knows the Okeechobee area of Florida very well and hunted there safely with his Chessie, Diesel. Jack wasn’t getting any younger and Jim wanted to allow him to go on a “real” duck hunt. So, they set the date for December 27, 2014. Jack was now 12 1/2 years old, and it had been about three years since he was around gunfire.

“December 27th was a beautiful mild day,” Jim recalled. “We put the boat in at a marina on the Kissimmee River. With Jack in the bow, we headed towards the swampy area called ‘The Mounds.’ Jack was having a good time basking in the warm Florida sun. We settled in the marshes when Rich spotted a duck and took his shot. Startled by the unexpected gunfire, Jack took off into the dense mounds of cattails. In the ‘fright and flight’ mode, Jack didn’t respond to my calls and whistles.”

Jim and Rich desperately tried to follow Jack, but the boat couldn’t go into the dense marshy area, so they jumped into the water. The underwater roots of Lake Okeechobee pulled Jim under, and when he surfaced, Jack had disappeared.

They frantically searched for Jack until they ran out of daylight and gas. Devastated, they returned to the marina and Jim had the difficult task of calling his wife, Karen, and breaking the news that Jack was missing.

“I’ll never forget what she said,” Jim said with a laugh. “Karen’s response was, ‘Go back in and don’t come home until you find him.’ So, I got on the phone and called the airboat operator, and we continued the search.”

For the next few days, Jim had airboats searching the area. They distributed flyers and had ads in the local newspapers, on the local radio station, and visited shelters. Jack’s plight was posted on social media in hopes someone had been out there hunting and had taken him in. A dear friend and fellow Chessie lover, Mclane Evans, hired a plane to search the area. Still, there was no sign of Jack, and they were beginning to lose all hope of ever seeing him again.

“On the evening of the fourth day, feeling desperate, I called an animal communicator, Jacque Riker,” Jim said. “I was skeptical about her abilities but felt I had nothing to lose by talking to her. So, I told her things about Jack, how he became lost, and sent her a picture. The next morning, New Year’s Eve, Jacque called to let us know she had reached out to Jack, that he was alive, but scared, he was stuck and couldn’t move. She told him to make himself heard, that there were people out looking for him, that he should not give up. After Jacque told me this and I hung the phone up, I asked myself, should I believe this?”

Within five minutes, Jim and Karen had their answer. Jason, the airboat guide, called to tell them that they had found Jack. “While setting out duck decoys, they heard a dog barking. Following the sound, he found Jack about 100 yards from where he was lost. His rear legs were tangled in the vines and underwater roots, and he couldn’t free himself. They had to cut Jack free. He told us where he was taking Jack and we rushed the 100 miles to get him.”

Jack was suffering from dehydration, hypothermia and shock. It was touch and go, but they never gave up hope. 

“Jack was given IV fluids and put on a warming blanket. That was all they could do; the rest was up to Jack. By the next day, he was awake and that afternoon he was wagging his tail and was able to walk outside. After spending two nights under the constant care of Dr. Harvey and his tech Megan, Jack was able to come home.”

After the incident, Jim and Karen were blessed with two and a half years with their beloved Jack before he passed away. “We love him,” said Jim. “He’s still in my heart.”

It’s no surprise to learn that while Jim loves his post-retirement job at Arrow Pest Control, he says that the real reason he works is to support his “dog habit.” The name of this habit is Whispering Oaks Chesapeakes, a business that he runs with his wife, Karen.

“Karen is the real backbone of the company,” admitted Jim. “We do it as a hobby, not as a living. We screen everybody and reserve the right to sell a dog to anyone. We got pretty much the whole family involved, including my 15-year-old granddaughter. Right now, she is the number one junior handler.”

A proud family man, Jim was born and raised in Orange, Virginia. “I did typical teenage things. I had a good childhood. If it was needed, it would be provided. If we wanted it, we were given chores to earn it. I’ve tried to install that into my daughters when they were growing up.”

After graduating from high school, Jim joined the military in November of 1967. While he is now retired after 22 and a half years of service, Jim explained, “There is no expiration date.”

Jim met Karen in Plattsburgh, New York in 1969 where she attended the Champlain Valley School of Practical Nursing. “We met each other through friends, and we had a long-distance relationship for a while, seeing each other once a month and writing letters back and forth. I would visit her at her home, or she would come up to Plattsburgh. Then we were married in May of 1971,” Jim explained.

Jim experienced service in Vietnam, assignments to the Pentagon and New Mexico during his military career, including an assignment to deploy and set up a fully operational airbase within 48 hours.

“The only thing required was a water source – salt or fresh water – within five miles,” he said. “I also got to participate in the construction of the Northrop landing strip, which was the first Columbia landing strip.”

Jim was also thrilled to be stationed in Alaska. He was there for five years, and said the hunting and fishing was great.

Karen made her mark in Alaska as well; she was a Girl Scout leader.

“Her big claim to fame would be that she developed the ‘Mushing badge.’ It has been established and recognized by the Girl Scout Council Worldwide,” Jim said proudly.

Once Jim retired, he admitted to missing the military for the first two or three weeks. “The thing I miss the most is the camaraderie.”

After working for a while in the propane business, Jim started working in pest control. “I started out here on the island with Statewide back in November of 2012. Now it’s called Arrow.”

It’s no surprise that Jim is a big fan of Boca Grande. “The island is beautiful. If you want to retire, just relax, and go to the beach, go boating or fishing, it’s great. The island is very quiet and peaceful, and I enjoy coming out to work here. I enjoy my job.”

The conversation eventually circled around once again to dogs, and the question was asked, why Chesapeake Bay Retrievers?

“It’s their loyalty and their dedication to their owners,” he said. “Many years ago, the breed was known as the ‘Rottweiler of retrievers’ because they were not only bred to bring the game back, they were also bred to protect the game. We don’t breed them for protection, though, we breed them for socialization. We love them. When our dogs are finished with the championship and training, we don’t give them away. They’re a member of our family.”