Airmen, Soldiers team up to keep working dog in the fight

by Staff Sgt. Thomas J. Doscher
386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

1/15/2009 – SOUTHWEST ASIA (AFNS) — Dental Airmen teamed up with Army veterinarians to give an Air Force working dog a root canal and get her back into the fight Jan. 15 at an air base in Southwest Asia. 

Airmen, Soldiers team up to keep working dog in the fight
Military working dog Kitti awaits her root canal at the feet of her handler, Senior Airman Adam Belward Jan. 15 at an air base in Southwest Asia. Kitti’s operation required the collaboration of both an Air Force dentist and an Army veterinarian. Airman Belward is assigned to the 822nd Security Forces Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Courtney Richardson) 

Airmen of the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group and Soldiers from the 218th Medical Detachment to work on 5-year-old Belgian melinois Kitti who 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 the 822nd Security Forces Squadron from Moody Air Force Base, Ga. 

“She was very stressed out in her kennel and tried to chew her way out,” said the native of Norwalk, Conn. 

Army veterinarians in charge of providing medical care for military working dogs 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. 

“(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. (Dr.) Mark Henderson, a 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 air base in Southwest Asia, send the dog to be treated at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, 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. (Dr.) Elizabeth Williams of the 218th MD said the procedure had a 95 percent success rate. 

“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.” 

Airmen, Soldiers team up to keep working dog in the fight
Lt. Col. (Dr.) Mark Henderson drills a hole in the tooth of Air Force military working dog Kitti to perform a root canal with the assistance of Army Capt. (Dr.) Elizabeth Williams Jan. 15 at an air base in Southwest Asia. Dr. Henderson is a 386th Expeditionary Medical Group dentist. Captain Williams is a 218th Medical Detachment veterinarian. The 386th EMDG and the 218th staffs had to combine their resources and experience for the dog’s operation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Courtney Richardson)

Sending the dog back to Lackland AFB 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 said. “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.” 

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

Complicating the procedure was the need for an X-ray. Senior Airman Dedric Bullock, a 386th EMDG radiologist technician, 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, the 386th EMDG dental NCO in charge who is deployed from Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, said each patient is different, particularly the nonhuman 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 war on terrorism,” Airman Belward said. 

Dr. Henderson said that aside from lacking a tool neither he nor Dr. 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 said after the procedure. 

Airmen, Soldiers team up to keep working dog in the fight
Army Pfc. Roderick Aldrich assists Army Capt. (Dr.) Elizabeth Williams with the intubation of Air Force military working dog Kitti before her root canal Jan. 15 at an air base in Southwest Asia. Private Aldrich and Dr. Williams are assigned to the 218th Medical Detachment. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Courtney Richardson)

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

“Military working dogs are a unique, nonhuman, person-type weapons system,” Dr. Henderson said. “It’s an awesome weapon system I fully appreciate, and we have to have their capabilities in theater.” 

Dr. 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.


2 Responses to “Airmen, Soldiers team up to keep working dog in the fight”

  1. Again the animal pays the the price for human stupidity, we train dogs for the PD’s is this area and for the private sector. Unfortunatly when these people aply for the position they seem to forget that these are living creatures and not a issued weapon or vehicle from their Dept.
    Which I am more then certain makes it more difficult for the folks that are over Seas and in the war.

    Respectfully yours
    Ellen M. Wilcox

  2. Yes I do agree with you Ellen. Overall, if we all were one half as great as our dog thought we were, we’d stand tall, indeed.
    Thank you,

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