386th, Army team up to keep working dog in the fight

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
Dental professionals from the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group teamed up with Army veterinarians from the 218th Medical Detachment to give an Air Force working dog a root canal Jan. 15 at a base in Southwest Asia. 

The procedure was a first for the Persian Gulf base, which acts as a hub for military working dogs moving into and out of Iraq and Afghanistan. 

The five-year-old Belgian melinois, Kitti, broke her tooth while trying to chew her way out of her kennel during the flight from Ramstein Air Base, Germany. 

"She doesn't like to be left alone," said Senior Airman Adam Belward, Kitti's handler from Moody Air Force Base's 822nd Security Forces Squadron. "She was very stressed out in her kennel and tried to chew her way out," the Norwalk, Conn., native explained. 

The Army veterinarians in charge of providing medical care for military working dogs transiting through the Rock didn't have all the necessary equipment to treat Kitti. The solution was a collaborative effort with the 386th EMDG's dental team, who had an X-ray machine and an experienced dentist. The veterinarians had the anesthesia and experience with dogs. 

"She [the veterinarian] has talents I don't have, and I have talents she doesn't have, so we both need each other," said Lt. Col. Mark Henderson, 386th EMDG dentist. "It was definitely a teamwork concept." 

With Kitti and Airman Belward due in Afghanistan in a week, the options were limited. They could either perform the root canal at the Rock, send the dog to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to be treated or pull the tooth altogether. 

Airman Belward said he was apprehensive about the procedure. 

"I was nervous about it," he said. "It's one of her key things for protecting herself, for protecting me." 

Army Capt. Elizabeth Williams, 218th MD, said the procedure had a 95 percent success rate and she had the best in the Air Force and Army working with her. 

"I have a good staff with a good anesthesia technician, a good, healthy dog and a strong source of experience," she said. "We can do it here, invest a little time here and send her on her way." 

Sending the dog back to Lackland would take a week, and the vets were reluctant to pull the tooth because doing so weakens the jaw. Dog teeth are more deeply rooted and pulling a tooth requires pulling a bit of bone as well, Captain Williams said. 

"Patrol dogs need to be able to bite people and keep them from running away," she explained. "It's not a mission ender. It's like when someone has four fingers on their hand instead of five, and there's never been a study that says being bitten with three teeth hurts less than being bitten with four," she quipped. 

"Three holes in someone is pretty bad," agreed Airman Belward. "But four is ideal." 

Complicating the procedure was the need for an X-ray. 386th EMDG radiologist technician Senior Airman Dedric Bullock, a dog lover himself, never imagined having to take X-rays of an attack dog. He said there were advantages and disadvantages to working with a dog. 

"The factors are a dog's snout. It's in a good aspect," he said. "If it was in the back, there'd be no way we can do this." 

Staff Sgt. Heather Gaffney, 386th EMDG dental noncommissioned officer in charge, deployed from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, said each patient is different... particularly the non human ones. 

"Every patient has its own challenges," she said. "Obviously a sedated dog is going to be completely different. It's interesting. We never get to do this kind of stuff." 

After a four-hour procedure, Kitti was in the clear with two silver fillings in her canine. 

"She's ready to go out and win the global war on terror," Airman Belward confirmed.
 
Colonel Henderson said that aside from lacking a tool neither he nor Captain Williams possessed and having to work through it, the procedure went according to the plan. 

"I said next time we should do one that's tooth is broken even worse," he commented after the procedure. 

The Texas City, Texas, native said the procedure was important because keeping working dogs in the fight is vital to the war effort. 

"Military working dogs are a unique, non human, person-type weapons system," Colonel Henderson said. "It's an awesome weapon system I fully appreciate, and we have to have their capabilities in theater." 

Captain Williams agreed, adding that's why she's here in the fight. 

"It's always good to get the dogs back on their feet, chasing bad guys and sniffing out bombs, and that's what we do here," she said.