Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My experience with Military Working Dogs

I served 3 years in the US Army Veterinary Corps.  During this time, I was privileged to work with our Military Working Dogs (MWDs).  I was stationed in San Antonio, TX (home of the MWD Training Center) on Sept 11, 2001.  Several of the dogs that I cared for were sent with our special forces troops into Afghanistan.  One night, a few weeks after one of them left, I received a phone call from the dogs handler.  He was in an undisclosed location and his dog was having a seizure.  The handler was in a complete panic.  Unfortunately, there wasn't much he or I (over the phone) could do for the dog.  Due to the fact that seizures are so unpredictable and the dogs have to be alert at all times, the dog had to be retired.  The soldier was devastated.  The handlers become very close to their dogs.  When they lose one, it is like losing a partner.

I also was asked to go to Salt Lake City during the winter Olympics.  It wasn't long after Sept 11 and there was a lot of uncertainty about the safety of the Olympics.  Several military working dogs were sent to Salt Lake City about a month prior to the start of the Olympics to patrol the venues for any signs of terrorist activities.  During my time in Salt Lake City, I lived in a VA hospital across from the stadium where they held the opening ceremonies.

One of the interesting things that happened after we went into Afghanistan was that the US military discovered a need for dogs trained to detect land mines.  The dogs in the military at that time were trained for patrol, drug detection, and bomb detection.  They were not trained to detect land mines.   The military was renting these dogs from other countries.  At the time, I was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood.  This is the base where the Corps of Engineers is headquartered.  Combat engineers are the ones responsible for disarming land mines.  The military decided begin a program to train black Labrador Retrievers to detect land mines.  This unit was to be called the Military Working Dog Land Mine Detection Unit.  Since I was the veterinarian stationed on the base where they were wanting to begin the program, I was asked to help design the dog kennel.  In addition, I was asked to train the combat engineers that were going to be the dogs' handlers in basic animal husbandry and first aid.  Prior to this all MWDs were handled by the military police and they were either German Shepherds or Belgian Malinois.  It was a real honor to be a part of getting that program started.

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