BERWICK — Sophia’s final act may have saved her owner’s life.

Brian Drake remembers standing Saturday afternoon in front of his mailbox on Cemetery Road when his German Shepherd suddenly knocked into the back of his legs, sending him into the ditch. Then she was next to him, her jaw mangled and neck broken.

Drake caught the briefest glimpse of the car that had hit his service dog before it sped off.

The 22-year military veteran, who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he shifted into “combat speed” and evaluated his dog’s injuries. Realizing she had no chance to survive, he euthanized her to ease her suffering.

“She never went past my stone wall unless she was with me,” Drake said Monday. “Saturday she happened to go out with me to check the mail by my side.”

On Monday afternoon, police charged Jesse Gosselin, 23, of Dover, New Hampshire, in the hit-and-run.

A woman walking her dog nearby had given police a description of the tan sedan that hit Sophia. Berwick police shared the story on the department’s Facebook page, asking for help finding the driver.

The image was shared widely and viewed by thousands of people, police said, some of whom provided leads. That led police to Gosselin’s 1999 Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight, parked on Cranberry Meadow Road less than a mile away.

On Monday, officers returned to the crash scene and found headlight glass on the side of the road. They were able to match the glass to Gosselin’s car.

Gosselin told police he had been distracted by the woman walking her dog and drifted to the side of the road. He said he drove off instead of stopping because he had a suspended license and a warrant out for his arrest for failure to pay a fine from a previous conviction for operating with a suspended license.

Drake said police told him that Gosselin had been visiting his girlfriend and was late for work.

Police arrested Gosselin on the warrant, and also charged him with leaving the scene of an accident and driving with a suspended license. Bail was set at $1,150.

“He was very apologetic, very remorseful,” said Detective Ronald Lund.

Drake said Gosselin should have stopped, and failing to do so made a bad situation worse.

“Everybody makes mistakes. It’s what you do after that counts,” Drake said.

Drake, 45, got Sophia to help him cope with the post-traumatic stress disorder that leaves him anxious and tending toward aggression. Her presence was reassuring, he said, the touch of her fur, calming.

“Her being there watching my ‘6’ – my back – let me relax my vigilance a little,” he said.

Drake enlisted in the Army when he was 17 and served as a combat military policeman with an airborne infantry unit. He saw a lot of death. He also injured his back and sustained a traumatic brain injury.

He moved to his house in Berwick in 2007 and realized he could benefit from a service dog.

Drake got Sophia seven years ago, and the two of them went through 18 months of rigorous training to get her certified for temperament, command response and specialty training for therapy assistance, Drake said.

Service dogs can cost more than $30,000. Drake did much of the training himself, but still invested more than $20,000 in the dog, he said.

Sophia wouldn’t accompany Drake to his job at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard because it is too industrial there, with scraps of metal and loud noise, he said. But when Drake wasn’t at work, Sophia was no more than 5 feet from his side, he said.

He will hold off on getting another service dog until this spring because he is having surgery on the injury to his back and will be laid up for a good chunk of the winter.

There has been an groundswell of support since the story spread.

Monday night, Drake retrieved the plywood sign at the end of his driveway that had offered a $1,000 reward for information about the car. A business nearby had upped the reward to $2,000.

Berwick American Legion Post 79 is creating a fund for the Drake family, and anyone who wants to help can contact Legion members Ron Vigue or Andy Buckman at [email protected] or [email protected], according to the Berwick Police Department’s Facebook page. Drake is married with a 15-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son.

The family buried Sophia on the hill behind the house – a favorite spot for Drake and Sophia.

The family had a small memorial, recalling their favorite memories of Sophia. One of Drake’s fondest is playing hide-and-seek with the children at Willand Pond in Somersworth. The kids would go hide and then Sophia would track them, Drake said. The dog also helped him coach youth soccer, he said, chasing the ball so the girls learned to make crisp passes.

“We threw some dog treats in the hole with her toys, covered her up,” Drake said. “She has a headstone.”