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Ayaks, a military police working dog, is put under general anesthesia before getting preventative surgery on his stomach at the Veterinary Treatment Facility here Tuesday. The procedure is designed to keep his stomach from twisting and causing a fatal condition in dogs his size and body-type.

Photo by Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

Vets help keep ‘wardogs’ ready

5 Jun 2009 | Cpl. Nicole A. LaVine

The saying goes that a dog is a man’s best friend, but in the eyes of the Combat Center Provost Marshal’s Office dog handlers, military working dogs are considered fellow warriors. Therefore, Marines treat their military working dogs the way they would a fellow Marine.

One Army veterinarian and two veterinarian technicians at the Combat Center Veterinary Treatment Facility strive to keep these furry companions healthy and combat effective.

Since Marines take care of their own, working dogs are monitored and maintained to assure mission readiness and capability, said Lance Cpl. Patrick S. Shanahan Jr., a PMO military working dog handler.

“Both of us have jobs to do,” Shanahan, a Baltimore native, said about his dog, Ayaks. “If he’s healthy, he’s more likely to complete his tasks.”

One of the best ways to assure readiness is through preventative medical care, which is provided by the VTF to military working dogs as well as personally owned pets.

“Every decision we make ultimately impacts the kennel master” said Army Maj. Tod M. Thomas, the western regional surgeon chief. “If a dog is not deployable, that may mean the team is not deployable, or the handler may have to train and certify another dog beforehand.”

Thomas and Army Capt. Amy J. Clark, the Veterinary Treatment Facility section chief, performed surgery on Ayaks at the facility June 2.

The procedure was done to prevent the specialized search dog from developing a fatal condition known by veterinarians as gastric dilatation and volvulus syndrome, or “bloat” which causes the stomach to become twisted and cut off blood flow to vital organs.

“It is the number one preventable cause of death in dogs,” said Thomas, a Somerville, Ala., native. “GDV is responsible for nine percent of deaths in DoD [Department of Defense] dogs each year. This dog we’re doing surgery on is a healthy dog; we are doing this for prevention instead of emergency treatment.

“This is a double bang for the buck because there have been no compromises to his blood flow and we maintain the skills we would need to operate on a dog that hasn’t already had this procedure,” Thomas said.

Clark, a native of Anchorage, Alaska, said in addition to supporting PMO and other animal-handling military occupational specialties, providing animal treatment is a personal reward.

“I don’t think I ever thought about doing anything else,” Clark said. “I may have thought about doing this since I was around five.” 

It is recommended by the VTF staff that military working dogs go under the knife for this procedure no more than 18 months after arriving at the Combat Center.

Ayaks’ surgery took about two hours and involved making a shallow incision on his stomach and mirroring it to another incision on the inside of his right abdominal area. The two incisions were connected and sewed together so that as they heal, scar tissue will hold the dog’s stomach in place, reducing the chance of a twist. 

As Clark and Thomas stitched up Ayaks’ shaved belly, Shanahan stood in the corner of the room with his arms crossed and his face partially hidden behind a surgical mask. Shanahan has been Ayaks’ handler for the past 11 months and has already stood by his companion through a minor dental surgery.

Shanahan said he feels more comforted knowing his dog is at a lower risk of developing bloat or other stomach problems.

“I’ll stay with him through the night at the kennels,” Shanahan said, stroking his partner’s head as he awoke from anesthesia. “I’ll check up on him regularly, but I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

The VTF is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily and is closed Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Even though the facility will treat personally owned pets through appointments, VTF does not perform emergency procedures.

For pet emergencies, contact the Hi-Desert Animal Hospital in Twentynine Palms at 367-9511 or the Companion Animal Clinic in Yucca Valley at 228-1474. For more information call VTF at 830-6896.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms