By Petty Officer 3rd Class Meagan ChristophJanuary 31, 2020
A furry head rested on an operating table as specialists concentrated on their patient.
The furry head was Cita, a military working dog (MWD) assigned to Naval Base Kitsap Bangor. One of the specialists standing over him was U.S. Army Capt. Kerri Haider, veterinarian and branch officer in charge, extracting a tooth at the Veterinary Treatment Facility located on Naval Base Kitsap Bangor.
Dental procedures are but one example of many procedures Haider and her team of U.S. Army veterinary technicians perform on a weekly basis.
"We see around a hundred appointments a week," said Haider. "If we have procedures like today where we did a dental procedure that takes up a lot of time and a lot of technicians, we see less patients when we do procedures."
U.S. Army Pfc., Jourdan Cunningham, a veterinary technician that works with Haider, explained that her job is rewarding and provides a sense of accomplishment.
"It makes me stand up a little taller knowing that I take care of America's warfighters," said Cunningham.
The Army is the only branch in the U.S. Military to offer veterinary health services. The top priorities are to provide support and healthcare to MWD. As part of the Army's Public Health Command -- Pacific, veterinary clinic teams help support comprehensive public health responsibilities by providing technical oversight for animal health and wellness, as well as food defense and food protection missions, along with developing Soldiers, civilians, leaders and teams.
"Veterinary Health Services (VHS) nests within the one health umbrella, providing support to both animal health and human health, through food protection, food defense, zoonotic disease surveillance, and animal health services," explained Amber Kurka, Public Affairs Officer of Public Health Command -- Pacific. "The VHS food protection mission includes support to ships and submarines, commercial sanitary audits, monthly commissary inspections, and food and water risk assessments in support of Army, Navy, Marine, and Air Force missions. The VHS animal health mission centers on the 31 veterinary treatment facilities providing care to MWDs, beneficiary pets, and other government owned animals."
Public Health Command -- Pacific Veterinary Health provides support that stretches across 24 countries and 120 Navy vessels, which include protecting, promoting, and improving the health pf approximately 142,000 privately-owned animals, 460 MWDs, and 320 government owned dogs.
Providing care to animals was always something Haider had planned on doing, but commissioning as an officer in 2015 was a decision that was inspired by her professors and happened while she was in veterinary school.
"At the university that I went to for veterinary school, we had a very prevalent military presence," said Haider. "There were a few retired colonels from the Veterinary Corps. One was someone who specialized in the public health mission. I also had someone who specialized in animal health. I really got the whole aspect of military veterinary medicine. It seemed awesome to me because it's not the same thing every day."
Among the services provided by Haider and her support staff is the issuing of health certificates for pets of military personnel when they get orders overseas.
"The essence of a health certificate is different for every country," said Haider. "We go on the United States Department of Agriculture website and go under pet travel and click on a country that your pet is going to travel to and there's a whole checklist of what you need to do, what the veterinary needs to do, and a link to the health certificate that I will fill out for that specific country. The health certificate is needed to certify the pet won't spread a disease, and different countries are concerned about different things."
Haider explained that the process to get your pet ready to move to another country takes time and that it is important for military personnel to start it as soon as they find out they are going to move overseas.
"We have a lot of people that will be going to Japan, other places in Asia, or Europe," said Haider. "Basically what we need you to do immediately when you find out that you're most likely going to be going to that specific country is to make an appointment with us. We go over your animal's records and make sure that they have all the vaccines that they need. Sometimes there's certain blood tests that are needed for certain countries. It's very specific on the amount of time between blood tests and vaccines. We do an initial appointment as soon as you know that you're making a permanent change of station. Some of these can take up to three to four months to get everything correct before the pet is allowed to go over to the other country."
The main issues that Haider described running into are that people aren't aware that the process takes time and then the health certificate can't be completed when they need to be.
"We go through all the paperwork, update vaccines, do any blood tests that are required, and we'll give you a schedule of when you need to come in to do everything to be able to write the health certificate within 10 days of travel," said Haider. "The issue we have is people who come in and say, 'I'm going to Japan tomorrow.' Then they don't have any records of any vaccines, they don't have any of the appropriate blood tests, and we can't write a health certificate for that animal. Making sure once they know they're making a permanent change of duty station then they can come in and talk to us. We can get them on the right track, give a checklist and schedule an appointment."
Haider also works in conjunction with Navy Medicine Readiness Training Command Bremerton and the surrounding area by assisting with bite reports.
"If anyone gets bit by a dog or a wild animal -- with any type of rabies vector -- they go to the nearest military treatment facility, or to Naval Medicine Readiness Training Command Bremerton for that bite, and a report will be made because of the bite," said Haider. "After the doctor has decided if that patient needs prophylaxis or anything like that, the report will be sent to us. We can either follow up with an owner if it was a dog bite to make sure they have rabies vaccines. If it was a wild animal we make sure that any disease risk with rabies is controlled."
Haider described being able to provide care to service members as rewarding and an opportunity to connect and relate to the military personnel around her.
"I enjoy being able to provide veterinary care to another service member because we have a mutual understanding that we're both serving our country," said Haider. "Being able to offer them veterinary care on post where they live and where they work and having a friendly face there is a great asset to have in the military. We're here and we have healthcare. We have everything we need on every single base or post, and then veterinary care is something that people sometimes don't know that we also offer. It just makes it an all-inclusive community."
The all-inclusive and joint command environment is seen often in the clinic when MWDs come in for treatment. Master at Arms 1st Class Shane McClennen, assigned to Marine Corps Security Forces Battalion Bangor, often visits the clinic with MWDs when they need routine exams and procedures performed.
"It's fun to see how different we are, but how everything's pretty much the same," said McClennen. "The ranks have different names, but the respect is still there and the comradery is still there. It's a beneficial experience to be able to see behind the scenes how all branches work and intermingle."
Along with the work that the clinic provides to MWDs and pets, the mission of the clinic is to also provide security for the food or service members and their families.
Haider said that every day veterinary health services inspect all locations on base that have food.
"What makes the job awesome is that you are able to figure it out and you have all of these different hats you get to put on all the time and you get to work with all the different entities," said Haider. "We have Navy, Army, and Air Force. We get to work with different groups of people like preventative medicine at NMRTC Bremerton. I really liked that collaborative one-health-approach to medicine. I'm a huge advocate for all of us working even closer together. That whole one health aspect of getting to work with so many people and wear so many different hats every day. This whole atmosphere is what brought me into wanting to do military veterinary medicine."