Friday, 19 August 2022
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One-of-a-kind hospital in San Antonio treats military dogs injured in line of duty


By the time veterinary technicians hoisted Robin the German shepherd onto a stainless steel table at Holland Hospital on Thursday, the sedative he had been given was taking effect.

Animal caretaker Jason Floyd wrapped an arm around the dog’s torso. Tech Robyn Miller, clad in a blue smock, smoothed Robin’s fur, as the dog fell into a deep slumber.

After they wheeled him into the X-ray room, Army Maj. Catherine Burlison stood behind a protective partition, watching the visuals as the dog was scanned.

Robin isn’t yet a military working dog, but he was being checked out by some of the best in the business, the staff at the only hospital for U.S. military working dogs injured in the line of duty, located at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.

Burlison looked over the scans of the dog’s spine, hips and elbows and gave the nod: Everything was in good order

“He’s a keeper,” Miller said, smiling.

Robin may soon join the elite corps of four-legged warriors who fight alongside their human companions. These canines get the best treatment, when they’re healthy and when they’re sick. That’s where Holland comes in.

The injured dogs come from all over the world — from military duty stations and war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq — to receive cutting-edge care here.

Thursday, the Department of Defense officially opened a new wing for the hospital with expanded space for post-operative patients and an aquatic therapy room.

Army Brig. Gen. Erik Torring said that the improvements will help veterinary staff get injured canines back to duty as quickly as possible.

“Doing so enhances readiness within the DOD force,” he said, “and allows these working dogs to getting back to what they do everyday — save lives.”

More than 200 military working dogs are treated at the hospital, named after Lt. Col. Daniel E. Holland, an Army veterinarian who was killed in Baghdad by a roadside bomb in 2006 while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The hospital upgrades announced Thursday provide improved access to bring the patients directly to the expanded kennels that have 22 more runs. In the aquatic therapy room, water rose to the chest of Forest, a pointy-eared black dog, padding along one of two treadmills next to a new pool.

“This is such a huge upgrade from what we had,” Army SSgt. Cassie Barnett said. “Just seeing the growth and where we’ve come, having a dedicated space is a blessing for us.”

Adjacent to the 40,000 square-foot-hospital, Army Maj. Andrea Henderson, chief of sports medicine and rehabilitation, credited the design of the new expanded space to rehab therapist Kelley Meyer.

She pointed out the larger exercise area where equipment can be configured and tailored to the needs of each individual canine patient.

“Here, we have civilian animal caretakers, certified to handle the dogs, so because of that unique situation, the dog can stay here long term without a unit having to give up a handler for that amount of time,” she said

Dr, Walter F. Burghardt, chief of behavorial medicine and MWD studies, said the hospital includes a staff of 50, including 12 doctors, who provide services in the specialties that include emergency medicine and critical care, internal medicine, surgery and animal behavior.

He said the Air Force owns the hospital, but all of the veterinary care is provided by the Army.

“We kind of work hand in hand with everyone,” Burghardt said.

In the medicine and outpatient care section, he pointed out that they’ve cared for dogs of all kinds, including a European breed known as the Mechelaar in Flemish or the Malinois, the Dutch translation.

In addition to providing care for military dogs injured in combat, the facility provides worldwide referral services and consultation for 4,000 more canines that belong to other federal government agencies and DOD military working dog programs.

Maj. David I. Temple, commander of the 341st Training Squadron, which includes the hospital, said Holland provides veterinary care for more than 1,100 dogs assigned to the squadron’s dog training school, the National Explosives Detection Canine Team and the Transportation Security Administration.

“This (Lackland) is where all the dogs for DOD get trained. I call it the Mecca of dog training,” Temple said, adding that the canines have a major role in the military’s mission to protect Americans at home and abroad and deserve the best of care.


The Bark Box

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