Wounded working dogs receive skilled care

by Col. Bob Vogelsang
U.S. Army Public Health Command

By now, most everyone knows that the warriors in Afghanistan consist of both the human and K-9 kind. Military working dogs have been with service members since day one of the current contingency operations and will likely be there until the last.

 And just as the human warriors are regularly exposed to the many potential hazards posed by the enemy, so too are the dogs. Indeed, some MWDs have suffered serious wounds that require timely and skilled medical care.

While some units not under the U.S. Army Public Health Command umbrella provide the initial resuscitative treatment and stabilization of wounded dogs, definitive care is performed by USAPHC elements. Dogs wounded in theater will generally first be evacuated to Dog Center Europe at Vogelweh. DCE assesses the dog’s condition and provides the appropriate treatment, surgery or other procedure for the particular injury.

Last year, four dogs wounded by either small arms fire or improvised explosive devices were treated in USAPHC veterinary hospitals. One K-9 was a Marine Corps dog named Drak, two were Australian (Kujo and Kuga) and one was from the U.K. (Tommie). Having the most extensive and sophisticated military veterinary care, the U.S. provides services to other nations’ MWDs as well as its own.

Drak and his handler were wounded in a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device explosion. Drak received extensive injuries to the area near his right hip. Pieces of shrapnel destroyed part of the pelvis forward of his hip joint and also caused soft tissue damage. He also suffered shrapnel wounds and burns to his rear legs.

Drak was initially treated by Lt. Col. Jim Giles, an Army veterinary surgeon in Afghanistan with the 463rd Medical Detachment Veterinary Services. Giles stabilized the dog’s vital signs and cleaned his wounds. During that initial surgery two large, jagged metal fragments were removed from the wound near his hip. Shortly afterward, Drak was medically evacuated by the Air Force to Germany where the DCE took over his care.

Veterinary surgeons Majs. Jacque Parker and Kent Vince, along with staff members at DCE, operated to close the wounds. After that surgery, Drak remained in Germany to convalesce prior to his next trip to the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Veterinary Service at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Drak had a remarkable recovery, and he didn’t need a course of physical therapy and rehabilitation. However, it was thought that his ability to return to duty as an MWD and stay in top condition was questionable. Drak is currently in San Antonio awaiting the outcome of a disposition board. His Marine Corps handler is also in San Antonio at the Warrior Transition Unit at Brooke Army Medical Center so they still get to see each other.

Kujo and Kuga are Australian military dogs who received gunshot wounds—Kuga to the carpus (wrist on a human) and Kujo to the upper part of his front limb. As with Drak, each dog initially was seen by Giles in Afghanistan for stabilization and wound cleaning before being medically evacuated by the Air Force to Germany and DCE.

Kujo’s wound was particularly problematic as it destroyed most of the small bones that work together to allow movement. In Germany, a complex metal external fixator was placed to keep the area immobilized to try to allow the area to heal. The bullet that hit Kuga shattered the bone of his upper front leg. After arrival at DCE, plates, pins and screws were used to realign the bone fragments.
After a recovery period, both dogs were flown back to Australia for additional treatment.

Tommie is a dog from the U.K. Tommie was the luckiest of the bunch. He was hit in the side by a bullet that went under the base of the tail and came out the other side. Though he had some big holes in him, the bullet amazingly missed any important structures. Large blood vessels to the rear limbs, colon, pelvis and nerves were all nearby, but none of them were injured. Other than needing the wounds closed after being cleaned out and probably being sore for a little while from the swelling and bruising, Tommie happily went off back home.

Army veterinarians take care of military working dogs wherever they are. USAPHC veterinary facilities and staff are making significant contributions to the well-being of these warrior-animals. Training and experiences like that provided by the Veterinary Corps’ first year Graduate Veterinary Education program help new Army veterinarians to be ready to respond to injured MWDs and other veterinary issues.