By Spc. Elisebet Freeburg, Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan, PAONovember 10, 2009
KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan - In October, numerous U.S. military working dogs received special cooling vests and pads to combat heat exhaustion which killed several dogs in Afghanistan this year.
Maj. Donna DeBonis, the 993rd Medical Detachment officer in charge of the veterinary treatment facility here from Whidbey Island, Wash., spearheaded the project, while the Humane Society International purchased 25 vests and 75 pads at a reduced price by the supplying company. FedEx provided free shipping to Afghanistan for the cooling vests and pads.
For a canine, critical temperature is 105 degrees Fahrenheit and above, said DeBonis. She has personally recorded temperatures at more than 130 degrees Fahrenheit on KAF's tarmac-covered flight line.
"Dogs can't cool off like we do," said DeBonis. "They can't sweat."
Dogs lower their temperature by panting, which increases the air flow through their respiratory system. The vests are manufactured to absorb heat building up in the dog, making breathing easier and cooling vital organs. The adjustable cooling vests can be recharged by submerging in ice when a refrigerator is not available and last for hours.
The cooling pads provide similar effects and claim to maintain a canine's optimal body temperature for at least four hours in weather more than 110 degrees Fahrenheit. DeBonis expects handlers to use the pads for dogs to lie on in the backs of vehicles during convoys and mounted patrols.
The project began after DeBonis, while paying a vet visit to military working goats at the KAF ammunition supply point, spoke to Sgt. Donald R. Belvin, an 826th Ordnance Company supply noncommissioned officer from DeKalb, Ill. The two observed military working dogs operating nearby, and DeBonis mentioned to Belvin that dogs are prone to overheat in this climate. Wanting to help, Belvin initially researched sniper pads, once used by snipers to cool themselves while lying in wait, he said. On the Internet, he located a company that sells cooling vests and pads for police and rescue canines.
"[The company was] very willing to help," said Belvin. "I mean, they even sent the dogs treats."
In a similar project, the Humane Society of the United States purchased cooling vests in 2003 for donation to U.S. Marine working dogs in Iraq.