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How Accurate is "Megan Leavey"? The Real Story of Sergeant Rex the Dog

Starring Kate Mara, Common, Tom Felton, Edie Falco, Bradley Whitford | based on the true story of Corporal Megan Leavey and her combat dog Rex

Kate Mara
Born: February 27, 1983
Bedford, New York, USA
Megan Leavey
Born: October 28, 1983
Birthplace: Valley Cottage, New York, USA
Movie Dog
Sergeant Rex
Born: 2001
Death: December 22, 2012, Rockland County, New York, USA
Edie Falco
Born: July 5, 1963
Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA
Ellyn Leavey
Born: July 30, 1953
Birthplace: New York, USA
Bradley Whitford
Born: October 10, 1959
Madison, Wisconsin, USA
Bill Leavey
Born: September 28, 1951
Birthplace: New York, USA
What I hope people take away from this film is to never give up on something you love. -Megan Leavey, Movie Featurette, 2017

Questioning the Story:

Did Megan Leavey really join the military after losing a close friend?

In the Megan Leavey movie, Kate Mara's character joins the military to get away from her life, which included the death of her best friend and losing her job. The Megan Leavey true story is a little less dramatic, as we didn't find any mention of those two events happening. Leavey, a former standout softball player during high school, tried college for a brief period before deciding to enlist in the Marines in 2003. "September 11th is the main reason I joined," she said. Like in the movie, she had worked next to a military recruiting station.

The real Megan Leavey (left) and her partner, Military Working Dog Rex. Kate Mara (right) as Leavey in the movie.

Were Megan Leavey's parents really against her decision to enlist in the Marines?

Yes. Like in the movie, Megan's parents were less than thrilled with her decision to enlist in the Marines. Bill and Ellyn Leavey tried to talk their only child out of it. Megan told them that she had to commit herself to something that she couldn't quit, something that would help her see what she's made of. "That's the only way I'm going to grow up," she explained to her father. -NY Daily News

Did Megan Leavey meet Rex after being sent to a kennel as punishment to clean up after the dogs?

In the movie, Leavey is put on clean-up duty at a kennel as part of a punishment detail, but it turns out to be her salvation because it's where she meets the Military Working Dog Rex. In real life, Leavey's pairing with Rex seems a little more intentional on her part. The real Leavey was assigned Rex as soon as she got to Camp Pendleton. She had gone to Parris Island for basic training and enrolled to become part of the military police, applying to the K-9 unit, where she was partnered with Rex. -NY Daily News

How many combat tours did Megan Leavey and Rex serve together?

Fact-checking the Megan Leavey movie revealed that Leavey and the military bomb-sniffing dog Rex served two tours together. In 2005, they were deployed to Fallujah for seven months and then to Ramadi in 2006. It was during the second deployment that they were both injured by a makeshift explosive device. In all, they served for nearly three years at each others side and completed more than 100 missions. -NY Daily News

Was there a book written about Sergeant Rex?

Yes. The well-reviewed book, titled Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog, was written by Marine Corporal Mike Dowling, one of Rex's previous handlers. It was published in December 2011 and emphasizes the bond between a military service dog and its human partner. Dowling endorsed Leavey's efforts to adopt Sgt. Rex. -Daily Mail Online

Marine Corporal Mike Dowling, author of the book Sergeant Rex, was one of Rex's previous handlers. Dowling and Rex served on the front lines together in Iraq's Triangle of Death in 2004.

Did the explosion happen like it does in the movie?

In real life, Megan Leavey and Rex were badly injured in Iraq on September 4, 2006 while they were clearing an unoccupied area ahead of five Humvees. After safely clearing the road of four bombs, insurgents watched from a rooftop and detonated a fifth improvised explosive device (IED) as Leavey and Rex approached an intersection (NY Daily News). "We had an IED blow up right underneath us on a foot patrol," said Leavey. "That was traumatic. Me and Rex got tossed like ten feet. I was knocked unconscious, bleeding from my ears" (FOX 5). Unlike what is seen in the movie, we found no evidence that she got back up with Rex and assisted in hunting down the perpetrators in a nearby structure.

Did they really survive the blast because the bomb was buried too deep?

Yes. The Megan Leavey true story confirms that since the IED was buried too deep, the ground absorbed most of the blast and shrapnel that was meant to kill Leavey and Rex. "Overall it was good, the bomb was buried too deep," says Leavey. "So I was very lucky" (FOX 5).

What were the extent of Megan and Rex's injuries?

Megan Leavey nearly died when the IED went off, and her bomb-sniffing partner Rex was wounded in the shoulder. Megan experienced hearing loss from an exploded eardrum. She also suffered a traumatic brain injury and spent nearly a year recovering and rehabilitating with Rex, eventually leaving the military when her commitment was up at the end of 2007. At that time, she tried to adopt Rex, but like in the movie, the military refused the request. Megan was awarded a Purple Heart for her wounds and heroism. -Daily Mail Online

Actress Kate Mara (left) and the real Megan Leavey and bomb dog Rex (right).

Did somebody steal Megan Leavey's Purple Heart?

Yes. In fact-checking the Megan Leavey movie, we learned that the theft happened while she was recovering from her injuries and PTSD at Camp Pendleton. She had it in a plastic case by her bedside in the barracks and she returned one day to find it stolen (the theft is not touched on in the movie). She was presented with a replacement several years later when she was honored at Yankee Stadium in 2012. Watch video of Megan Leavey being honored at Yankee Stadium.

Did Megan really enlist the help of a senator in her effort to adopt Rex?

Yes. Megan Leavey got the attention of New York Senator Charles Schumer, but it didn't happen like it does in the movie, with Leavey approaching Schumer on the steps outside a government building. In researching the Megan Leavey true story, we learned that Leavey called Jerry Donnellan, a man who assists with veteran causes in Leavey's home county of Rockland, New York. Donnellan contacted the staff of Senator Schumer. The senator then sent a letter to Michael B. Donley, Secretary of the Air Force, which handles the training of military work dogs at San Antonio's Lackland Air Force Base.

In his letter, Schumer wrote of the bond that had been forged between Leavey and Rex, in addition to the countless lives they had saved. He urged the Air Force to allow Leavey to finally be able to adopt combat dog Sgt. Rex. "It's only appropriate and right that the two of them enjoy their retirement from the service together," Schumer commented shortly after the request was approved. He praised the military for "doing the right thing and allowing Rex to be with Corporal Leavey." -CBS New York

The real Sergeant Rex (left) faced being put down if he could not prove he was suitable for civilian life with Leavey.

Why was it so hard for Megan Leavey to adopt Rex?

"It's just a very long process," Leavey said during a FOX 5 interview in 2012. "It's not guaranteed that every working dog is able to be adopted. They have to go through a suitability checklist and there's a lot that goes into it."

Did Megan really start a petition that got over 20,000 signatures?

Yes, and numerous people helped to circulate the petition, including Senator Chuck Schumer's staff.

Was Rex really going to be put down if the adoption didn't go through?

Yes. Since Sgt. Rex could no longer perform his bomb-sniffing duties, the 10-year-old German Shepherd faced being put down by the military. His best hope was Corporal Leavey being allowed to adopt him. "I've taken care of him. He's taken care of me," said Leavey. "It's a bond you can't break." -CBS New York

How long did it take before Megan Leavey and Rex were reunited?

After a tearful goodbye with Rex at the military kennel, Leavey was discharged from the Marines in December 2007, hoping one day she'd see her best friend again. It would take roughly four more years until Leavey and her canine partner were officially reunited in 2012 (she did go to visit him once). The only reason the military let Rex go was because he had developed facial palsy, a nerve paralysis that left him no longer able to function effectively as a bomb-sniffing dog. The story had caught the attention of Yankees owner Randy Levine and his wife Mindy, who helped Leavey bring Rex home. -NY Daily News

It took four years before Megan Leavey was allowed to adopt Rex. Actress Kate Mara (inset) in the movie. Photo Courtesy of Megan Leavey.

How much time did Megan and Rex have together before he passed away?

After not having been allowed to adopt Rex for four years, Megan Leavey was reunited with her former companion in the spring of 2012, when he was discharged from the military and she was permitted to adopt him. They spent eight short months together before Rex died on the morning of December 22, 2012. His best friend Leavey was by his side. She said that she cherished those months she got to spend with him and posted the following comment on her Facebook page:

I am so grateful for the last 8 months I got to spend with my partner & my best friend. Rex got to swim in a pool and play with my other dogs. He got to roam the yard & bark at deer, play with as many toys as he wanted all day every day, sleep in a cozy bed next to me every night, chase and eventually make friends with my 2 cats, enjoy & play in his first snowfall…and so much other great stuff that he would have never had the chance to do if he was never retired. He knew I was with him the whole time and I laid next to him & held him & spoke to him & he was at peace in the end. He is now my guardian angel…even though he already was. So thank you to everyone who supported me & made it possible for me to spend those precious 8 months with my best friend. He was one hell of a dog, one tough ass Marine, and one very special soul.

What did Megan do after recovering from her injuries and leaving the Marines?

Megan J. Leavey went to work for MSA Security, a private company that hired her as the handler of a bomb dog named Patriot. Her duties included working with the dog to clear Yankee Stadium before games and checking deliveries coming into the stadium. She also performed similar duties with the dog at the United Nations. Megan is currently working as a veterinary technician.

Does the real Megan Leavey have a cameo in the movie?

Yes. Leavey has a cameo as a drill instructor who gets in Kate Mara's character's face. She is credited as Female Drill Instructor #3.

Megan Leavey Interviews & Related Videos

Take a bigger bite into the Megan Leavey true story by watching the interviews and videos below, including Megan and Sergeant Rex being honored at Yankee Stadium.

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