FORT LEE, Va. -- Twenty representatives of local law enforcement agencies attended a two-day training course here Aug. 27-28. The session led by the Veterinary Tactical Group focused on emergency/combat medical care for police working dogs.

Most of the attendees were canine handlers from the military services and government law enforcement agencies. Others included a veterinarian technician and a military policeman.

Sgt. 1st Class William Morton, kennel master for the 544th Military Police Detachment, led the charge to offer the training at Fort Lee and invited regional handlers to help them improve their skills.

“A current shortfall with all dog handlers is not knowing the signs and symptoms of distress and the inability to provide comprehensive immediate first aid for our four-legged companions,” he said. “As Army handlers, we receive annual veterinarian training; however, it usually consists of basic first aid, such as checking for dehydration, wrapping a wounded paw, and properly identifying a dog's temperature, pulse and respiratory rate.

“This training expands on our basic handler knowledge from school and annual vet training,” Morton continued. “It goes into more in-depth topics like identifying signs of various health issues that we could potentially see over the animal’s lifetime. More importantly, it provides the opportunity for hands-on training with cadavers while continually testing our knowledge learned through scenario-based training.”

Veterinary Tactical Group, a private organization ran by veterans, provided the training focused on combat medical emergency care for dogs.

“This type of training is learned by service members before they deploy to help their teammates on the field – we just teach that same thing for dogs,” said Dr. Janice Baker, VTG owner. “It’s different than regular first aid because that assumes no one is trying to hurt you. This training takes everything we learn about combat medicine for people and applies it to dogs.”

As with their human counterparts, medical treatment on the battlefield is instrumental to keeping those canines alive long enough to get critical veterinary care that may be hours or days away, said Baker.

“If the handlers are able to provide initial life-saving treatment to the dog, it increase the chances of arriving alive at the veterinarian,” she said. “It’s a well-established concept in human care; we’ve just applied it to dogs.”

Another positive result of the session, Morton said, is that it dispelled myths and misunderstanding associated with illnesses and how to care for dogs when they are critically injured, a time when every minute counts.

“This training is a great opportunity for handlers of all backgrounds and experience to refresh ourselves or learn new techniques for providing first aid,” he said. “It provides the opportunity to train with all elements of military and civilian law enforcement, allowing us to share experience, knowledge and best practices. As handlers – either in law enforcement or combat – we need to know how to care for our companions and ensure lifesaving measures are applied when necessary.”