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Vet clinic supports MWD program with care, training

Military working dog Mex, assigned to the 822nd Base Defense Squadron, receives a vitals test during a routine checkup July 16, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Mex’s checkup ensured he was healthy and ready to perform the job of supporting base security. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillian Bamman)

Military working dog Mex, assigned to the 822nd Base Defense Squadron, receives a vitals test during a routine checkup July 16, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Mex’s checkup ensured he was healthy and ready to perform the job of supporting base security. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillian Bamman)

Staff Sgt. Erik Smith, a 822nd Base Defense Squadron military working dog handler, holds down MWD, Celo, while Army Capt. (Dr.) Allison Brekke, the 23rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron officer in charge of veterinary services, listens for Celo’s heartbeat before surgery July 16, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Breeke inspected the working dog to ensure there would be no complications before beginning surgery. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillian Bamman)

Staff Sgt. Erik Smith, a 822nd Base Defense Squadron military working dog handler, holds down MWD, Celo, while Army Capt. (Dr.) Allison Brekke, the 23rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron officer in charge of veterinary services, listens for Celo’s heartbeat before surgery July 16, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Breeke inspected the working dog to ensure there would be no complications before beginning surgery. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Dillian Bamman)

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. (AFNS) -- Military working dogs require extensive medical care to keep their noses in good working condition to help sniff out drugs and explosives and aid in base security.

To ensure these canines are up for the task, the 23rd Aerospace Medicine Squadron Veterinary Services Flight supports Moody's MWDs by maintaining their preventative care.

"Our primary mission is to provide medical care for the military working dogs," said Army Capt. (Dr.) Allison Brekke, the 23rd AMDS officer in charge of veterinary services. "We maintain their preventative care through vaccinations, parasite control and general wellness screenings to keep them fit to fight.

"We also run a vet clinic on base as a means to keep up our medical skills, so we can continue to provide care to the working dogs," she added.

The MWD handlers interact with the vet clinic regularly for checkups and to receive medical training for their companions.

"We conduct, at a minimum, quarterly training (with the MWD handlers)," Brekke said. "The working dogs are like any other animal and cannot be operated on for training purposes ... but when they come in for their procedures, we try to get the handlers engaged with the medical processes."

Within austere environments like a deployed location there might not be a veterinarian available, so the MWD handlers may need to provide medical care to their K-9s to help save its life.

"In the field, we need to have the ability to recognize when our (working dog) isn't feeling right," said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Bonello, a 23rd Security Forces Squadron MWD trainer. "Having the training to identify what is wrong with our working dogs can be the difference in saving their life."

Even if the dog makes it through unscathed, the aftermath of a deployment can take a toll on them. As a precaution, the clinic checks the canines for post-traumatic stress disorder upon their return.

"PTSD is very common in working dogs," Brekke said. "We screen for it post-deployment and have training for recovery. If we observe any signs of PTSD, we consult with a behaviorist to get them the help they need."

If an emergency occurs with MWDs, like a PTSD panic attack, the clinic's Army technicians remain on call to provide them immediate care when necessary.

"What is asked of my technicians is far beyond what you'd expect from their job," Brekke said. "They're fully committed to the job, not because of the pay and benefits, but because they care about the dogs as much as I do."

Even through long hours to ensure the dog’s operational health, the technicians continue to help the MWD handlers keep the dogs smiling, according to Brekke.

"We have a really friendly working dog population (here)," Brekke said. "I think that comes from the handlers and kennel masters dictating their kennel environment and care."

MWD handlers and their canines oftentimes build strong bonds of companionship, and for Bonello, trusting someone with his canine is a big deal.

"We definitely have a good working relationship with (the vet clinic here)," Bonello said. "I trust them with my dog because they're who we look for when we need help."