Military working dog aerovaced after operation, hospitalization
SOUTHWEST ASIA -- Staff Sgt. Timothy Cox carries his military working dog, Ronny, to a C-130 Hercules on Aug. 22 for an aeromedical evacuation to Germany. Ronny was diagnosed with pericardial effusion, an unnatural collection of fluid around his heart that began interfering with the heart's functioning. Sergeant Cox and Ronny are assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron at a forward-deployed location. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Lee Tucker)
by 1st Lt. Kelley Jeter
380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
8/23/2004 - SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFPN) -- Staff Sgt. Tim Cox and military working dog, Ronny, have been partners for more than two years, so when the canine cop fell ill on the job recently, Sergeant Cox instantly recognized a problem.
“He just had a complete change of attitude,” Sergeant Cox said. “He got very lethargic and wasn’t himself at all.”
Ronny’s change in behavior was a red flag that he needed immediate medical attention, and he was taken to a veterinary facility in a city near a forward-deployed location. The veterinarian discovered Ronny had a relatively common malady for large-breed dogs called pericardial effusion. It is an unnatural collection of fluid around his heart that began interfering with the heart’s functioning. He was immediately operated on.
“He was put into the equivalent of doggie ICU for three days,” said Maj. David Blocker, 380th Expeditionary Medical Group’s aerospace medicine chief.
Ronny’s heartbeat was irregular for two days after the emergency procedure, which drained the excess fluid off his heart. He was hooked up to a heart monitor, put on oxygen and closely observed until he was out of the danger zone.
Army Capt. (Dr.) Todd Bell, a veterinarian assigned to Navy Central Command headquarters, was summoned to assess Ronny’s condition and assist in a medical evacuation if needed.
“This condition will often resurface six to eight weeks after the initial episode,” Dr. Bell said.
The possibility of Ronny getting sick again cemented the decision to send him to Germany, where he could get a specialty evaluation and maybe a special surgery to permanently fix the condition.
Major Blocker has arranged plenty of aeromedical evacuations for people, but said this was his first experience with moving a sick dog. The aerovac system requires frequent stops and medical re-evaluation to guarantee that people will have the medical care they need available in flight and at every step along the way.
“People may often go home for medical reasons, but not all of them need medical care en route,” he said.
Many can be sent home commercially or on a military rotator and will usually make it home anywhere from five to seven days sooner than if they are locked into the aerovac system.
Unlike people, medics have very few options with regard to moving sick dogs. Ronny needed the constant presence of health-care professionals and a trained eye to watch his condition, should it change; that made aerovac the ideal choice. Military working dogs like Ronny are considered to be active-duty servicemembers eligible for aerovac.
To get him safely to Germany for further triage, Ronny was escorted by Dr. Bell and Sergeant Cox on a special aerovac flight Aug. 22. From there, they will decide whether to treat him in Germany, or to send him home to Texas to get treated.
Sergeant Cox and Ronny are both deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, but the treatment facility for military working dogs is at Lackland AFB, Texas. They were assigned to the 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron here, where Sergeant Cox and Ronny worked at the vehicle search area checking incoming vehicles for explosives.
Military working dogs’ training can run anywhere from $20,000 to $60,000 before they are ready to work. Training them to sniff out drugs or explosives, and teaching them to attack on command helps keep servicemembers and assets safe from outside threats.
After Ronny’s evaluation and possible surgery, he will have about 30 days to recover, and he will be back home and working at the job he has been trained to do.
Good...Im glad to see the military is no longer treating its dogs as "disposable"...the way they did at the end of Viet Nam.