A new $15million veterinary hospital for four-legged military personnel has opened, offering advanced medical treatment to combat-wounded dogs.
Some 2,500 dogs working for all branches of the military and Transportation Safety Administration are trained at Lackland Air Force Base base to find explosive devices, drugs and land mines.
Like soldiers and Marines in combat, military dogs suffer from war wounds and routine health issues that need to be treated to ensure they can continue working.
Dog handler James Stegmeyer works with Kamilka at the new Department of Defense Military Working Dog Veterinary Hospital at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio
Dogs injured in Iraq or Afghanistan receive emergency medical treatment on the battlefield and are flown to Germany for care.
If necessary, they are flown to San Antonio for more advanced treatment - much like wounded human personnel.
"We act as the Walter Reed of the veterinary world," said Army Col. Bob Vogelsang, hospital director, referring to the Washington military medical center that treats troops returning severely wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan.
The new $15 million veterinary hospital offers an advanced facility to treat military dogs that find bombs and aid patrols on the warfront
The dogs can usually return to combat areas if they recover at the Military Working Dog Center, he said.
Before the center opened in San Antonia, Texas, veterinarians treated and rehabilitated dogs in a cramped building that opened in 1968, when the military trained dogs for work in Vietnam.
The hospital was already overloaded by September 11, 2001, but since then, demand for military working dogs has jumped dramatically.
They're so short on dog breeds such as German shepherds, Labrador retrievers and Belgian Malinoises that Lackland officials have begun breeding puppies at the base.
Lackland is training 750 dogs, which is nearly double the number of dogs there before the September 11th attacks, Vogelsang said.
Guests tour the new department that includes operating rooms, digital radiography and CT scanning equipment
To treat the trainees and injured working dogs, the new hospital has operating rooms, digital radiography, CT scanning equipment, an intensive care unit and rehab rooms with an underwater treadmill and exercise balls, among other features.
A behavioural specialist has an office near the lobby.
"This investment made sense ... and somehow, we were able to convince others," said retired Col. Larry Carpenter, who first heard complaints about the poor facilities in 1994 and later helped to launch the project.
Training a military working dog takes about four months. With demand outstripping the number of dogs available, hospital and veterinary workers were trying to keep them healthy and working as long as possible, Vogelsang said.
Working dogs usually enter training at 1½- to 3-years-old, and most can work until they're about 10, he said.
Then, the military tries to adopt them out and "station them at Fort Living Room," Vogelsang said.
Pictured: The brand new $15m hospital for America's four-legged war heroes | Mail Online