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Marine Air Ground Task Force Training Command and Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center
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Army Capt. Amy Clark [right], the officer in charge of the Combat Center’s veterinary clinic, operates on a dog April 12 as Spc. Roxana Gatch, a veterinary technician, observes. The clinic is open to both military working dogs and privately owned pets.

Photo by Lance Cpl. M. C. Nerl

'Doggie doctors' keeps paws on ground

15 Apr 2010 | Lance Cpl. M. C. Nerl Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms

Through thick and thin, Marines and sailors take care of each other, but the task of caring for military working dogs and pets at the Combat Center is placed in the capable hands of a group of U.S. soldiers.

The installation’s veterinary clinic, a small outpost of the Army’s Southern California District Veterinary Command, is responsible for the medical needs of military working animals here, said Army Capt. Amy Clark, the officer in charge of veterinary services here.

“Our primary mission is caring for all of the military working dogs with the Provost Marshal’s Office,” said the Anchorage, Alaska native. “We also handle privately-owned dogs and cats.  I am the only surgeon here and we have more than 40 working dogs; it’s constantly a balancing act between the two.”

With more people than pets on the installation, one might think the clinic’s job is a small one, but that is just a myth, Clark explained.

“We have over 6,000 active patient records right now,” she said. “It’s tough to have to turn someone away without giving them full treatment for their animal, but our mission for the working dogs has priority. Medical emergencies and military dogs take priority over standard appointments and procedures.”

Spc. Janay Coleman, an animal care specialist at the clinic, said the small crew here is more than a group of "doggie doctors," they handle all types of veterinary care.

“We literally do it all here,” said the Phoenix native. “Our clinic handles everything from regular check-ups on animals to the captain performing surgery.”

All the hard work pays off in the end, Coleman said, despite the hectic schedule.

“I really love doing what I do here,” she explained. “Handling every little thing and doing such a variety helps you really learn a lot more.”

Cpl. Timothy Culhane, a dog handler with PMO, understands first hand how vital it is to have a knowledgeable staff on site to look after their K-9 partners.

“We recently had a dog we thought had a stroke, because he couldn’t use most of the left side of his body,” said Culhane, from Rochester, N.Y. “It turned out he had a pinched nerve in his tail.

“This all happened about two weeks ago, and the dog is one hundred percent now. She really got it done as quickly as possible,” he said.

In addition to keeping PMO’s four-legged friends in the fight, the clinic also treats family pets. Schedule permitting, their services are available to anyone who holds a Department of Defense identification card, Clark said.  

“It’s difficult, but we try to treat every wagging tail that walks into our office,” she said.

The provost marshal, Maj. Dave Jones, said having the clinic here aboard the Combat Center is convenient for more than it’s proximity to the PMO kennel facility.

“They have oversight of all of our dogs,”  said the Nashville, Tenn., native “They’re here for emergencies, and that makes care easier, but they’re right here if we have questions, basic needs and any number of concerns related to our dogs. They’re a great asset to our mission here at PMO.”

Jones explained the soldiers’ mission encompasses more than the care of animals.

“They routinely conduct food inspections for trucks bringing food aboard the Combat Center,” he said. “In doing so, they directly contribute to our Anti-Terrorism Force Protection measures.  They ensure we don’t receive products containing blood-borne pathogens – they’re the reason you’ve never heard of an outbreak of Salmonella aboard the base.”

The soldiers assigned to the veterinary clinic also conduct food inspections at every establishment aboard the Combat Center where food is served or purchased.

Next time you see a soldier on base, take the time to offer thanks – this group of eight contributes a lot to keeping the Combat Center safe and effective and ensure everyone has, as they like to say, a great Army day.

For more information or to schedule an appointment for your pet, call 830-6896.

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Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms