Paws Up for Pets: Tale tells power of can-do attitude

AJ  Brockman with his service dog, Dre, a Labrador retriever that has been nominated for top honors at the American Hero Dog Awards. Photo provided

By Arden Moore

    Last year, I celebrated my Oct. 6 birthday in style — by getting a birthday hug from ageless animal advocate and actress Betty White on the red carpet at the annual American Hero Dog Awards held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles.
    I was there covering the event as host of the Oh Behave! show on and could not think of a better memory maker for my birthday than to be among people and dogs that every day make a difference in the lives of so many.
Getting a hug from Betty, who has been a guest on my show, proved to be the best birthday gift I’ve ever received.
    This year, I hope to return — not for a hug from Betty White — but to cheer on a pair of new friends I’ve met in the pet world: digital artist AJ Brockman and his service dog, Dre. These Palm Beach County residents are among the finalists for consideration for top-dog honors at this event sponsored by the American Humane Association.
    The deadline for public voting for finalists occurred right around press time for this month’s issue of The Coastal Star, so I am being optimistic that AJ and Dre are indeed among the honored finalists.
    But even if they are not, their tale illustrates the power of a can-do attitude, the ability to motivate others and the importance of maintaining a playful sense of humor.
    Let’s start with the humor factor. Take a peek at Dre’s Facebook page ( and you will see the two of them sporting matching handlebar mustaches. Brockman’s is real; Dre’s is not. But this 4-year-old, 72-pound black Labrador trained by Canine Companions for Independence assists Brockman with daily activities and much more — Dre has become his best friend and partner in unleashing smiles to others.
    And their can-do attitudes speak volumes. Brockman, age 25, was born with spinal muscular atrophy, a degenerative disease that parked him in a wheelchair by age 2. Yet he has earned a bachelor’s degree from Digital Media Arts College and has become a successful artist of digital paintings and operates the Single Handed Studio (
    “I’m pretty much a paraplegic except that for the few inches of movement I have in my left hand,” says Brockman, of Palm Beach Gardens. “I can always count on Dre. If I’m working on an image on the computer and my hand slides off the mouse, Dre is there to nudge my hand back. He opens doors for me, gets the phone if it rings and can even fetch me a beer from the refrigerator. He is my buddy, my best friend.”
    I invite you to check out some of Brockman’s diverse artwork on his studio’s website. He blends impressionism with realism in his pieces that capture life in South Florida. His work has attracted a faithful following, including attorney Phil DiComo of Loxahatchee.
    At the law office of Haile, Shaw and Pfaffenberger in North Palm Beach, where DiComo works, visitors are treated to not one but five original works by Brockman, including a large digital banyan tree aptly named MacArthur Majesty.
    “This piece by AJ is the first thing you see when you walk in and it is beautiful,” says DiComo. “It appears to be moving. We love AJ’s work and we are planning on getting two more pieces from him.”
    Finally, there is the ability of Brockman and Dre to motivate and inspire others. DiComo recalls watching this duo at a leadership event last October for high school juniors.
    “At the luncheon, before AJ was set to speak about careers in digital media, he and Dre were hanging out with the high school students and you could see that they had an immediate connection with those students. And, then when he spoke, he immediately put everyone at ease.
His work demonstrates that his limitations haven’t really limited him. His attitude is phenomenal. He and Dre received the highest ratings by the students among all the speakers that day.”
    I agree. The minute I started speaking with Brockman for this column, I felt like I had made a new friend. And, it was great to hear Dre occasionally “speak up” with a friendly bark.
    Brockman best describes himself not as disabled but as being differently abled. You can bet I will be among those rooting for him at this year’s American Hero Dog Awards — and beyond.

American Hero Dog Awards    

Each year, the American Humane Association sponsors the American Hero Dog Awards to celebrate the special positive and inspiring bond between people and their dogs. The event honors dogs that unconditionally aid people in many ways, from being service dogs to being military dogs and much more. The contest has eight categories of heroic dogs.  This year, the event will be Oct. 5 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles. To learn more, visit

Arden Moore, founder of, is an animal behavior consultant, editor, author, professional speaker and master certified pet first aid instructor. Each week, she hosts the popular Oh Behave! show on Learn more by visiting

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