Medics, more train to save K-9s during combat

Published 10:11 am Tuesday, July 28, 2020

A K-9 Tactical Combat Casualty Care class took place at the new Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital training site, located at 6990 Pennsylvania Loop, bldg 4214, July 9.

Staff Sgt. Cameron Reeves, BJACH education and development non-commissioned officer in charge, said the new training site is an ongoing project with a goal to stand up a Medical Simulation Training Center. 

“The hope is this site will be here for a long time, and that we will continue to build and make it better,” he said.

In addition to the K-9 casualty class, other courses taught at the site include a refresher course for the emergency medical technician’s license, Tactical Combat Casualty Care for humans, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and advance life support. They also plan to add a dental emergency class.

“The classes taught here are important because this is the only training center on Fort Polk that offers this wide a variety of collective medical training for medics, dental technicians, veterinary technicians and most other military occupational specialties at the hospital. At some point, they have all come through these classes,” he said. “It helps with Fort Polk’s overall mission and keeps medical personnel up to date on all skills as they rely on the latest knowledge and information available,” he said.

Reeves said with the K-9 casualty care class, the focus is the medic on the ground that may not have access to a veterinarian.

“This class teaches medics the tools they need to aid an injured military working dog and get him back into the fight,” he said.

Reeves said these K-9 classes couldn’t happen if BJACH didn’t partner with Fort Polk’s Veterinary Treatment Facility.

“We have a great relationship. We offer our classes to them and they help teach these K-9 classes to us,” he said. “We sat down and figured out how we could work together to make something that would be good for everyone involved. That’s when they came up with this class.”

Capt. Gina Cipolla, Fort Polk Veterinary Treatment Facility officer in charge, and Spc. Ashleigh Lyons, an animal care specialist, taught the K-9 Tactical Combat Casualty Care class. 

They got the idea for the K-9 class on a trip to the Army Public Health conference at Fort Dix, New Jersey in September of 2019. 

“We attended the canine version of a first aid course at the conference. It was one day dedicated to learning about military working dogs. There were extensive models (dummy dogs) from which you could work. We were just blown away, Lyons especially,” she said. 

They decided the course was something they wanted to bring back to Fort Polk; Cipolla said this class would have been difficult to do without the help of BJACH’s new training site. 

“Not everybody can travel to this conference, but this type of course is essential to training, not only the handlers and veterinarians, but also human medics in K-9 care.

It’s about teaching people, who haven’t had a lot of experience with a military working dog, that they are capable of providing these life saving measures. If these dogs don’t get this treatment in the field, many of them won’t make it to a veterinarian,” she said.

Lyons said 80% of MWDs don’t survive due to massive hemorrhaging when they are injured downrange, and she wants to help change that.

“Many medics aren’t educated enough in canine medicine to save the dogs, so they don’t make it,” she said. 

Lyons said K-9’s aren’t military tools.

“These dogs are living beings that deserve to be saved,” she said.

Cipolla said she and Lyons wanted to make the class as accessible as possible for people on the installation, allowing them to collaborate and share these skills and knowledge. 

“This is our third time providing the course and every time see a higher demand for it. We are discovering ways to make the course better each time. There is limited funding, so we don’t have fancy models for participants to work on, but people are talking about what we are doing here and have been willing to help us make this class better. That’s our goal,” she said. “I’m so proud of Lyons and the effort she has put into making these classes the best possible for our students.”

Cippola said she thinks the most important thing participants learn from the course is not to let the fact that their patient is a dog become an obstacle. 

“They have to get past the initial thought that they don’t know what to do with a dog. We try to help teach that a dog is essentially a human with different anatomy. There are some slight differences but we would treat them the same as an injured Soldier. You just have to make a couple of modifications to tailor treatment to what the dog needs,” she said.

Cipolla said participants are walking away from the course with the confidence that they can help these dogs downrange.

“If they are the only option, and a dog is injured, they won’t be left standing there not knowing what to do. They would have the basic skills, and they would know where to find the information needed to administer essential first aid,” she said. 

After taking this course, Cipolla said students will know how to help a dog breathe, pack a bloody bullet wound, apply a tourniquet or splint to a limb and more, giving a wounded MWD dog a chance to live.

Cipolla said it’s imperative to realize how important these dogs are. 

“In the course of their duty, these dogs will be injured and have wounds on their legs and they are still working. Their drive is incredible to watch. An MWD can detect and clear an area of multiple improvised explosive devices; and if those don’t go off, that dog has saved thousands of lives. Taking a little time and effort to take this class is worth it to possibly save their lives,” she said. 

Sgt. Kristin Vanderzanden, a squad leader with the 50th Military Police Detachment, 519th Military Police Battalion, is the military working dog handler to Frenky. Vanderzanden and her MWD took part in the class along with two other handlers and their MWDs. The handlers allowed students the opportunity to interact with their K-9s, get hands on experience and ask pertinent questions. 

Handlers are subject matter experts when it comes to working with the dogs, as well as caring for them. Being her dog’s primary care giver, Vanderzanden said she knows a lot of the basics but not all of the medical terminology. 

“Think of it like an infantry unit trained on basic first aid; even the people who aren’t medics have been trained to know the basic skills needed to care for their battle buddy. It’s the same for us. Our dogs are our partners, and we have to know the basics to be able to get an injured MWD to base and advanced care,” she said.

Vanderzanden said she thinks this class is hugely beneficial. The knowledge medics gain by participating in this class is important. The more people that have a basic understanding of K-9 tactical combat casualty care, the better. 

“When Frenky and I were in Afghanistan (2018-19), we didn’t have access to a veterinarian where we were stationed. What we had was a field surgical team, and they were really good at working and interacting with us,” she said.

The things they knew and continued to learn about MWDs helped the dogs stay safe. “Every time new medics were attached to the unit, I brought Frenky down so they could meet him and get some hands-on training with a MWD. I think it’s vital because the chances of a vet being the first person on the scene in the case of an incident is unlikely,” she said.

Vanderzanden said the biggest benefit of the class is giving participants the chance to interact with the dogs and their handlers — it fosters familiarity and comfort. 

“I’ve talked to most people in this class, and no one has had an experience with working dogs before. This gives them an opportunity to get comfortable around the MWDs, especially if they are going to be able to help them when they are injured.” she said. “We are also giving them the information they need to ask the right questions when it comes to K-9s — things they wouldn’t think to ask unless they were able to talk to a handler.” 

Though Vanderzanden said the class participants probably aren’t going to remember everything they learned in the one-day course, they will probably keep some of it in the back of their minds and remember those skills when it counts. 

Pfc. Daniel Yoo, BJACH ear, nose and throat specialist, said he was interested in taking the class because he has a long-range goal of becoming a veterinarian, and the class looked interesting.

“An email was sent out to inform people about the course and it said anyone could apply; I wanted to participate, so I signed up,” he said.

Yoo said he didn’t know anything about K-9s when he walked into the class but he liked that they taught the fundamentals of caring for MWDs.

“I’ve worked on a farm and with dogs before, so I wasn’t intimidated, and now I have some basic knowledge of first aid to help them if they are injured. I think if a dog was injured around me, I could use what I learned today to help,” he said.  

Spc. Tanner Welsh, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 509th Infantry Regiment medic and team leader, said he took the K-9 casualty care class to expand his medical knowledge because learning new skills can help in any situation. 

“For medics who like to stay aware of the latest information in their field, constantly pursuing new skills is valuable. If you aren’t a medic, it’s still a medical course and will potentially help you advance in your career,” he said.  

Being able to help with any situation while deployed is also a key factor, said Welsh. “Being a medic, people will come to you with their own needs, but handlers might also come to you for help with their dog; and when you are downrange, it could be the difference between saving a dog’s life or not,” he said. 

As a medic, Welsh said he knows the procedures they are talking about in the class, but the anatomies of dogs and humans are vastly different. “For example, when it comes to their limbs, you can’t put a regular tourniquet on them, it has to be a special kind and, typically, you pack their wounds. Learning these little bits of information will allow Soldiers to help these dogs in the field,” he said.

This article originally appeared on Leesville Daily Leader: Medics, more train to save K-9s during combat