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Defense Health Agency Veterinary Services Protect Military Working Animals

Image of U.S. Army Capt. Rebecca Reed, officer in charge, Fort Belvoir Veterinary Medical Center, conducts a physical exam of Peti, a military working dog, while Eduardo Vazquez, K-9 handler, Provost Marshal Office, Security Battalion, holds him still at the Veterinary Medical Center on Fort Belvoir, Virginia, April 25, 2022. (US Marine Corps photo: Lance Cpl. Kayla LaMar). U.S. Army Capt. Rebecca Reed, officer in charge, Fort Belvoir Veterinary Medical Center, conducts a physical exam of Peti, a military working dog, while Eduardo Vazquez, K-9 handler, Provost Marshal Office, Security Battalion, holds him still at the Veterinary Medical Center on Fort Belvoir, Virginia, April 25, 2022. (Photo: Lance Cpl. Kayla LaMar)

Military working animals, along with their human counterparts, play an important role in protecting our nation and U.S. interests worldwide.

From bomb and drug sniffing working dogs to working mules and horses—these animals are crucial to the safety and security on and off the battlefield.

The U.S. Army Veterinary Corps promotes the health, safety, and welfare of all military working animals to maintain mission readiness. The corps also provides care for service members’ pets at veterinary treatment facilities around the globe. The Defense Health Agency Veterinary Services Division supports the Veterinary Corps’ animal health mission by providing policy guidance, support, and coordination with other departments and agencies when needed.

“We accomplish this by providing veterinary public health capabilities through veterinary medical and surgical care, food safety and defense, and biomedical research and development,” said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Patti Glen, chief of DHA’s veterinary services division. “In addition to the vet corps, officers provide military veterinary expertise in response to natural disasters and other emergencies. We're an integral part of supporting a nation at war. Everything we do ultimately focuses on the warfighter, the soldier, sailor, airmen, and Marines.

Taking Care of Military Working Animals is a Team Effort

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Melissa Hehr, deputy chief of DHA’s veterinary services division, said that military working dogs receive semi-annual physical exams at a minimum, as well as other routine and preventive veterinary care that includes vaccinations, and flea, tick, and heartworm prevention.

She said wellness exams are recommended for personal pets on an annual basis. Consulting a veterinarian is recommended to “determine what vaccinations are most appropriate, given their pet’s location, breed, age, health status, and activities.

“For our working animals, the handlers have a really close relationship with the veterinarian so that they can call them anytime they need to,” said Glen. “There is an Army veterinarian on call 24/7 for our working animals.

Glen noted the summertime can be especially hard on working animals, particularly dogs.

“The working dogs are out there in the heat, and their work is so intense that they must be on work-rest cycles. They need to have plenty of shade. Their coat gives them more insulation, so it's harder to keep them cool. It is important for them to have access to shade, and water to cool down and to drink.”

Even something as common as walking your dog can be dangerous for their health during the warmer months.

“If the concrete is too hot for you to touch,” said Glen, “then it’s too hot for them to walk on. Find some grass to get them off the hot concrete.”

“Another thing for military families to keep in mind is maintaining their pet's rabies vaccinations and rabies titers.” She added  this is especially important if a service member is about to move outside of the U.S. Having pet records up to date is vital to prevent delays.

Military personnel with mules U.S. Marines lead military working mules on a hike during Animal Packers Course 23-1 at Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center, Bridgeport, California, June 18, 2023. (U.S. Marine Corps photo: Lance Cpl. Justin J. Marty)

DHA Veterinary Services Design Strategy

Although not responsible for the day-to-day care of the military’s working animals, or service members’ personal pets, the DHA veterinary services division helps to analyze, inform, influence, and shape policy and strategy.

Along with their work with military working animals, “a large part of our mission is protecting or enhancing the health of the warfighter and beneficiaries of the Military Health System,” said Hehr.

“One of the things I enjoy about working in DHA Public Health is that there is no such thing as a typical day,” said Hehr. “I enjoy the challenge of not knowing what may come my way as I go about my workday. We spend a lot of time analyzing and informing policy that can impact our stakeholders, the joint force, and the nation.”

Being a Veterinarian is ‘Best Job in the World’

“I can't imagine that there's a more exciting job than as a veterinarian in the Army,” said Glen.

In her current capacity she noted that she gets to do a little bit of everything.

“We get called on for our expertise in food protection, animal health and welfare, global health engagements, disaster relief, humanitarian assistance, and zoonotic disease. I get to help develop and shape policy.”

Her passion to help animals fueled her career path.

“I became a veterinarian because I love medicine and wanted to help not only animals, but also people,” said Hehr. “I liked the fact that veterinary medicine would give me the option to change course multiple times throughout my career to pursue my ever-evolving interests and passions.”

“I like knowing that I can make a difference on so many levels. Whether it’s because I’m able to cure a sick pet, prevent the spread of a transboundary animal disease to U.S. livestock, mitigate the risk of zoonotic diseases to people, or support national security,  my role as an Army veterinarian enables me to have a positive impact in so many areas that I feel are important.”

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Last Updated: September 06, 2023
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