Kadena vet clinic keeps military working dogs in top shape

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- In the military you are taught to never leave a fellow warrior behind. In some cases this applies even if your partner isn't of the same species.

For military working dogs and their handlers, their effectiveness depends on both team members being in top shape. Keeping the furry half of the team healthy is the Okinawa Branch Veterinary Treatment Facility at Kadena Air Base, which provides comprehensive care to all U.S. military working dogs on Okinawa in addition to pets.

One recent patient at the clinic was a two-year-old German Shepherd named Nico. Marine Lance Cpl. Alyssa Anderson, assigned to Camp Foster, is Nico's handler, and though they have been working together for only four months, one can tell by their interaction, they have already developed a strong bond.

"I love working with Nico," said Lance Cpl. Anderson. "We are always together so we become more than partners, we become best friends."

A military working dog's occupation is hazardous enough, but it's the dangers outside of the regular job that could also bring this "friendship" to an early end.

Bloating is a common life-threatening condition that strikes many large breeds like Great Danes, German Shepherds, and Blood Hounds.

In order to prevent this, Nico underwent a procedure called Gastropexy. This procedure secures the right side of the stomach to the right side of the body wall using minimally invasive surgery. Gastropexy is a standard procedure for all military working dogs and prevents the stomach from turning over on itself.

The Okinawa Veterinary Clinic here performs this procedure for all male military working dogs as soon as they arrive here while females have the procedure done at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

Corporal Anderson stayed with Nico throughout the entire process. From the administration of pre-anesthetic which put Nico to sleep, to the sewing up of the incisions, Corporal Anderson was right by his side.

"This is my partner and I want to be there with him throughout the entire procedure," said Corporal Anderson. "I want to be there to help him in whatever way I can; just like he does for me."

U.S. Army Captain William Baskerville, the veterinary surgeon who performed the procedure on Nico, said the surgery is designed to prolong the life of military working dogs so they can stay healthy and continue to perform their duties.

"I'm proud to be able to save the lives of those who protect us," said Captain Baskerville. "Without military working dogs this clinic wouldn't have as big a mission as it does."