FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — The Fort Leonard Wood Veterinary Treatment Facility has brought on board a new civilian veterinarian, Dr. Rachel Hallman, to exclusively care for the pets of service members and retirees.While her fellow veterinarians, Capts. Ashley Butler and Chyna Wagoner, also schedule some pet appointments, they spend most of their time caring for the post’s military working dog population.New to the Army, not the regionHallman — a self-proclaimed child of the Midwest — moved to Waynesville from Cleveland, Ohio, where she worked in food safety for the United States Department of Agriculture. Although her current position is situated in a familiar region, working with the military is something brand new, she said.“I think the thing that makes me the most sad is that everyone is going to leave — because that’s the Army life, and they all get sent out somewhere,” Hallman said, reflecting on the bond she and her coworkers have developed since she started in October. “They have all been incredibly welcoming.”Neither she nor her husband have any prior military service. She said she’s still learning the nuances of Army jargon.“It’s weird being called ‘ma’am,’” she joked. “But it’s not a bad life. Everyone seems to look out for each other.”She spoke highly of her fellow Soldier-veterinarians.“The other two vets and I — we’re the same age, but they did their intensive Army internships, so they’ve seen a lot more than I have,” Hallman said. “They are wonderful mentors.”She feels an empathetic obligation not just to the fort’s furry friends but also to their owners’ peace of mind.“I am ‘pet mom’ intensified,” said Hallman, who recently adopted a second canine. “I can’t do a good job at work if my dog is sick or my cat is sick. Knowing that your pet is taken care of is such a big relief. Pets are our children, and if your kids aren’t healthy, you’re not going to be healthy because your mind’s not going to be focused. I think I’m helping because I’m making sure part of their home life is taken care of.”Pondering her role as a medical professional isn’t new to Hallman, even though she finished school just two years ago. She knew she wanted to be a doctor by age three, she said, and a veterinarian by 12.“I love that it’s a little bit of a puzzle,” she said. “The animals can’t specifically tell you what’s wrong, so you’ve got to think about it from all the angles.”Hallman has two dogs and one cat at home. She paused her analytical doctor’s tone, laughed and admitted that her motivation to practice veterinary medicine may have been influenced by a love for animals.“And obviously I’m in it for all the pets and kisses as well,” she joked. “My house is much better now with two dogs.”When Hallman was a fourth-year student in veterinary school, her cat suffered from an idiopathic cystitis: a serious urinary condition with no clear cause. The sudden and confusing experience left Hallman determined to always do the research and get the answers for her future patients — a group which now includes the Fort Leonard Wood community.“My cat got sick for no reason,” she said. “And I hate that — I hate not having an answer. I, therefore, always look at continuing education.”Advice for pet ownersWith ice and snow just one cold front away, Hallman reminded pet owners to be conscientious of walking their pets in low temperatures and near road salt.“It depends on the dog. My husky — fantastic in the cold — but a little, tiny corgi might need a jacket if you’re planning on going on a long adventure,” she said. “A lot of dogs do not do well with the salt. Specifically, it’s harsh on their paws.”She stressed the importance of getting the right food for pets, even if it means shelling out a few extra bucks.“There’s a reason there’s billion-dollar industries that do research on food,” Hallman said. “The top brands stand by their foods, and that is why they’re expensive foods because they are worth the quality.”Hallman claimed that when it comes to feeding her own dogs, sometimes less is more.“My husband makes fun of me because I don’t really give my dogs anything extra,” she said. “I give my dogs some carrots and minimal treats, and I say, ‘because my dog food is perfect. They have the optimum diet.’”Most of the time, she added, the bag of pet food gives instructions on proper portion sizes, so “dogs should never be overweight.”VTF servicesRetirees and active-duty service members are authorized to use services at the VTF, regardless of whether they live on the installation, said Butler, the facility’s officer-in-charge.“For those who do reside on post, we can help owners ensure they meet the requirements for pets who are kept in on-post housing,” Butler said.While the VTF does not offer emergency services or after-hours appointments, the veterinarians can perform wellness exams and limited surgeries, including spays, neuters and mass removals. The facility can also provide health certificates for pets of service members set to move out of state.“If a (service member) is going overseas or to Hawaii, we recommend they call us as soon as they know … to ensure all vaccines are up to date and other requirements are met,” she said. “For some countries this process can take more than six months, so the earlier people start, the better.”To make an appointment for a furry friend, call 573.596.0094.