Army Veterinarians: Helping Animals, Helping People

By Sgt. Claude FlowersApril 24, 2008

A dog's life
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

LAGUNA DEL RINCON, Honduras - The people living in remote Honduran mountain villages own many animals, but they don't keep any pets. Not here. They can't afford to.

Looking at the dogs, cats, and horses that she administered medication to, Army Reserve Sgt. Mitzi L. Porter of the 993rd Medical Detachment (Veterinary Services) of Aurora, Colorado, said, "They're really working animals. If somebody comes up to their house, the dog protects them. The cats eat the rodents. The horses carry them. They have a utilitarian purpose."

Sgt. Porter, Lt. Col. Shannon L. Sutherland of the 7729th Medical Support Unit from Ft. Lewis, Washington, and Staff Sgt. Robyn Porter of the 478th Civil Affairs Battalion of Miami, Florida, spent a day under punishingly hot sunshine treating animals for Hondurans who have neither the resources nor ability to travel regularly to a veterinarian. The people here are dependent upon occasional Honduran governmental initiatives - and U.S. military missions like this - to render the needed medical treatment.

American personnel are in Honduras for the joint training exercise Beyond the Horizon. The event provides medical attention, as well as infrastructure renovation, to rural areas in this Central American country.

The medics reached Laguna del Rincon via Chinook helicopter. Being miles removed (via a treacherously bumpy one-lane dirt road) from the nearest city, the townspeople care for their animals as best they can, but ticks, fleas, roundworms and other parasites were common among animals that these Soldiers treated. Beasts of burden suffered from hoof rot caused by bacteria. Almost all were dehydrated and malnourished because of their living conditions.

Lt. Col. Sutherland explained, "In the United States, we'd de-worm the horses every six weeks for their entire lives. I can't imagine what it's like down here."

The bond between these people and their animals isn't based on affection, but necessity. The horses, for example, are used not just for transportation, but also to haul coffee beans - one of the few cash crops growing in the area. Without the ability to carry their harvest to market, the people of Laguna del Rincon would suffer greatly.

Some cases that the vets saw were unique. A female dog which recently gave birth to puppies suffered chafing and heat rash on her mammary glands. Another dog suffered from a detached eyelid, the result of a violent encounter with a cat. Lt. Col. Sutherland felt inside the mouth of one horse, discovering that its back teeth needed to be "floated" - filed down to keep them from growing painfully long.

One boy approached the Soldiers, patiently waited his turn, and gestured to a basket holding small puppies. Sgt. Porter and Staff Sgt. Porter lifted each one individually, inspecting them for injuries or parasites. All required Ivermectin (an anti-parasite medication) to fight pinworms thriving inside their little bodies, and to kill the ticks swarming on their fur.

None of the animals that the Soldiers treated on this sweltering day bore the fang marks of vampire bats, but those, too, are common in this area.

When the afternoon faded into early evening, and all of the animals had been treated, Lt. Col. Sutherland, Staff Sgt. Porter, and Sgt. Porter gathered their medical equipment, boarded their helicopter and returned to nearby Soto Cano airbase. The next day would bring another town, another group of animals desperate for their attention. But the people of Honduras would benefit from their skills, too.