JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO–LACKLAND, Texas –
The Lt. Col. Daniel E. Holland Memorial Military Working Dog Hospital at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland provides specialty care for animals from more than 200 places around the world where military working dogs serve, while also supporting the Air Force’s 341st Training Squadron.
“We are the hospital facility with the highest level of care available for consultation, referral and care,” said Dr. Walter F. Burghardt Jr., chief of Behavioral Medicine and MWD studies at the facility.
The hospital provides specialty care for animals from over 200 plus places around the world where military working dogs serve. It houses 700 to 900 dogs, trained at JBSA, which also receive care.
Army veterinarians and residents assigned at the hospital also receive specialty training during their assignments, Burghardt added.
“The average veterinarian is a general practitioner, so anytime we can provide them with some additional training is a plus for them, and it’s also a plus for us,” Burghardt said.
One of the hospital’s specialties is behavioral training.
“Like people, there’s not a perfect dog,” said Burghardt, adding that this field is targeted primarily with military working dogs which is their main population.
Each dog has its own unique challenges it encounters as it is going from an untrained dog to a trained dog.
“The real frequent ones are the behaviors that tend to get in the way of the dog learning what he’s supposed to be learning,” Burghardt said.
Those behaviors can include biting the wrong people or showing aggression in the wrong situations. Sometimes a dog purchased for service has too high an energy level and isn’t able to work.
“We have to sort out whether this is a motivational-behavior issue, or if we’ve got a medical problem,” Burghardt said. A dog may be hurting but is unable to tell a veterinarian where it hurts.
Military working dogs can be tested for vision, hearing, bone and muscle pain, as well as having their blood tested to determine a problem. Care for these canines also comes in the form of rehabilitation and sports medicine, also offered at the hospital.
The hospital is equipped with an intensive care unit and has doctors and veterinary technicians on call for cases outside of their regular duty hours.
Approximately 50 civilian and military members keep the hospital running smoothly, according to Lt. Col. Jacque Parker, director of the Department of Defense Military Working Dog Veterinary Service. Parker is a veterinarian surgeon by training and is impressed by the depth of the mission and population the hospital supports.
“We are the only medical facility for the United States Department of Defense military working dogs,” Parker said.
One of the most common ailment military working dogs suffer from is Lumbo Sacral Disease. Surgery or therapy is often performed to those suffering to help eliminate some of the pain the dog has while performing its duties.
“It’s basically like an arthritis of the lumbar spine,” Parker said.
Other services include in-house CT scans, endoscopic, advanced surgical procedures and sports medicine and rehabilitation. Parker’s staff is also responsible for the overall health of the canines, which includes monthly health evaluations, flea and tick prevention and heartworm prevention.
Once a month all of the dogs are lined up inside the hospital for their check-ups.
“It’s organized chaos,” Parker said, adding it is worth it so the dogs can continue to serve their country.
Military working dogs can serve approximately up to eight years before retiring, so efforts to keep them in service during that time are ongoing.
“They’re an integral part of our military defense system," Parker said. “They save lives every day.”