JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
By all accounts, U.S. Border Patrol detection dog Kvido should be retired from service.
The usually boisterous canine, who spent his days detecting narcotics, chasing down criminals, and playfully chewing up all the grass he could find, began whimpering in near-constant pain in 2015, after just one year on the job, and eventually regressed to the point he could not run, climb steps, or even sit down properly.
That December, Kvido received a bleak diagnosis: degenerative lumbosacral stenosis, or a premature breakdown of spine discs that puts painful pressure on a nerve root below the two shoulder blades. It’s an issue that veterinary surgeons can treat, but has always forced dogs to retire from service.
Kvido, however, bucked this trend, thanks to a revolutionary surgical implant called a pedicle screw fixation. The canine underwent a “first-of-its-kind” surgery performed by Dr. James Giles III, South Texas Veterinary Service surgeon, earlier this year. The normally reserved Giles couldn’t contain his excitement when talking about the implant at a press conference held March 20 at the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Veterinary Service Hospital at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland.
“We had some very dramatic short term results,” noted Giles, a retired Airman. “Everyone who has spine surgery is going to have some discomfort initially, but even two days after the procedure, (Kvido) was already much better. He was trying to jump off his leash. He was eager to climb stairs. He was everything we wanted him to be.”
The pedicle screw fixation, in simple terms, is made up of two screws connected by titanium rods that artificially separate Kvido’s spinal discs and shoulder blades. Giles said the long-term goal is for these bones to regain their natural separation over time, permanently relieving the pressure on the nerve root that caused Kvido’s pain in the first place.
“We’ve got high hopes for Kvido,” Giles said. “We want to see him working for another five to six years… We want him running, jumping, and chasing down people without restriction.”
While the pedicle screw fixation is commonplace in human surgeries, Kvido is the first canine to receive a dog-specific implant developed by veterinary startup corporation Artemedics LLC, in collaboration with veterinarians at Colorado State University.
“With all the work that went into getting this device put together, seeing this (succeed) is incredible,” said Dr. Benjamin Arcand, Artemedics LLC co-founder. “We’re looking forward to seeing this (implant) become more available and affordable to other service dogs.”
The implant costs about $1,500, not including surgical costs for the actual procedure, according to Arcand.
For Agent Marsh, Kvido’s handler and longtime companion, it’s impossible to put a price tag on his partner’s health.
“I can’t tell you how glad I am that (Dr. Giles) figured out how to help him,” Marsh said.
“Most working dogs you come around are not people (friendly) dogs – but you never need to muzzle Kvido. The most he’s going to do is smell you. He’s just a high-energy, friendly, really happy dog.”
Kvido focused his pent-up energy on his rehabilitation, Marsh added. Under the careful eye of Army Major Andrea Henderson, Kvido has been strengthening his legs and back using a wide range of physical therapy balls, pads, obstacle courses and treadmills.
“We had to slow him down at first, because he has a high drive,” Henderson said. “But that’s a good problem to have.”
About 100 dogs are rehabilitated every year at the DOD MWD Veterinary Service Hospital, but none have come through with a groundbreaking medical rap sheet like Kvido’s, said Henderson. Still, Henderson stuck to her guns during the rehab process, emphasizing patience and focusing on muscular strength taking over the load, as opposed to letting Kvido rely solely on his implant.
“We had to go a bit slower, but we didn’t really progress Kvido any differently from any of our other patients,” Henderson said. “He is a different sort of dog, especially because of the surgery, but the same (tactics) apply.”
Agent David Morales, Border Patrol canine supervisor, said the surgery and the eight weeks of rehab will end up being worth the wait.
“It takes time and resources to train these dogs,” Morales said. “This is a big investment, because this dog would have been retired without this surgery, and this rehab.”
For Agent Marlene Castro, supervisory Border Patrol agent, the choice to help Kvido was no different than if one of the human Border Patrol agents had suffered an injury.
“Some people might just see a dog,” Castro said, “But these are fellow agents – that’s how we treat them, and that’s what they mean to us.”
After a long road to recovery, the 3-year-old Kvido is finally reunited with Marsh, who hopes to work another six years with the dog. Marsh will have to ease Kvido back into work, where two-hour shifts under the punishing South Texas sun can leave dogs exhausted. The agent has no doubt his canine companion will soon be back up to speed.
“He’s already back to being the same dog he was before the surgery,” said Marsh, walking Kvido out of the DOD MWD Veterinary Service Hospital after the press conference. “Just rehabbing, just exercising, that’s not enough for him. He wants to be back at work.”
As Marsh spoke, Kvido spread out on the grass, happy to be outside after weeks spent mostly inside medical facilities and rehab centers. Chomping down on a big bite of grass, the dog broke out a big smile.
“It’s good to have him back,” Marsh laughed.