Hurt war dogs get soldier’s care
Vail, CO Colorado
SAN ANTONIO ” When he came to, the Marine’s arm hung lamely. It was broken by ball bearings hurled so hard from a suicide bomb that they also became embedded in his gun. Yet Brendan Poelaert’s thoughts quickly turned to his patrol dog.
The powerful Belgian Malinois named Flapoor had served him as partner and protector for the past four months in Iraq. Now, the dog staggered a few steps along the Ramadi street, then stared blankly. Blood poured from his chest.
“I didn’t care about my injuries, my arm,” his handler says. “I’m telling the medic, ‘I got to get my dog to the vet!'”
About 2,000 of these working dogs confront danger beside American soldiers, largely in the Middle East. With noses that detect scents up to a third of a mile away, many sniff for explosives in Iraq. Their numbers have been growing about 20 percent a year since the terrorist attacks of 2001, says Air Force Capt. Jeffrey McKamey, who helps run the program.
In doing their jobs, dozens of these dogs have also become war wounded ” scorched by the desert, slashed by broken glass, pelted by stray bullets, pounded by roadside bombs.
Their services are so valued, though, that wounded dogs are treated much like wounded troops. “They are cared for as well as any soldier,” insists Senior Airman Ronald A. Harden, a dog handler in Iraq.
Their first aid comes out of doggy field kits bearing everything from medicine to syringes. Some are evacuated to military veterinary centers hundreds of miles away and even to Germany and the United States for rehabilitation. Many recover and return to duty.
Healing under the California sun at Camp Pendleton, Flapoor is now back to his usual self in most ways: fast, friendly, eager-to-please. But he still suffers a sort of canine PTSD. “He’s really jumpy around loud noises now,” Poelaert says.
Tech. Sgt. Jamie Dana’s German shepherd Rex was plenty friendly but also young and healthy. The military didn’t want to let him go.
Rex ended up on an Iraqi roadway when a bomb blew the door off the Humvee he was riding with Dana in June 2005. He suffered little worse than a burned nose and cut foot, but Dana nearly died with collapsed lungs, fractured spine, and brain trauma.
When Rex visited her a couple weeks later at the hospital, she whistled for him and he jumped on her bed. Dana’s days as a soldier were over, but she missed her pal.
Friends and family petitioned Congress, and a law was finally signed to allow still able dogs to be adopted under unusual circumstances.
Now, Rex lives on a farm in Smethport, Pa., with Dana, who believes the dog wasn’t really meant for a soldier’s life.
“He loves everybody,” she says. “He sleeps beside my bed.”
Other dogs in the war zone aren’t so lucky. Though no careful count is kept, Army vet Lt. Col. Michael Lagutchik, who supervises care at Lackland, believes about 10 dogs have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.