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Air Force, Army: Making MWD’s bite worse than her bark

Two men put a breathing tube into a dog's throat.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Johnny Cohnes, 19th Aerospace Medical Squadron NCO in charge of Little Rock Air Force Base veterinary clinic, and Capt. Matthew Putnam, Fort Hood head veterinarian, prep, U.S. Air Force 19th Security Forces Squadron military working dog, Alpha, for surgery on Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Nov. 2, 2018. The veterinarian clinic on Little Rock Air Force Base is primarily manned by U.S. Army personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

A group of people monitor the vitals of a dog on an operating table.

19th Security Forces Squadron military working dog, Alpha is prepped for surgery on Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Nov. 2, 2018. The U.S. Air Force 19th Aerospace Medical Squadron dental flight worked together with the U.S. Army veterinary clinic to accomplish the operation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

A man pets a dog as it rests its head on his leg.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Clayvon Finch, 19th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler, comforts, Alpha, 19th SFS military working dog, before her root canal on Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Nov. 2, 2018. Alpha broke her tooth during bite training. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

Two people work on a dogs tooth.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Bradley Phares, 19th Aerospace Medical Squadron general dentist, and Lt. Col. Joanna Jaminska, 19th AMDS commander, perform a root canal on military working dog, Alpha at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Nov. 2, 2018. The operation involved cleaning the tooth, filling it with a rubber filling, and then covering it with a tooth-colored composite material. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

A group of people work over a dog laying on a operating table.

U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army members work together to perform a root canal on, Alpha, 19th Security Force Squadron military working dog at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Nov. 2, 2018. The training and resources of both branches were necessary to successfully complete the operation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

A group of people pose behind a dog sleeping on the floor.

U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army members pose after performing a root canal on 19th Security Forces Squadron military working dog, Alpha at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Nov. 2, 2018. U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army team members worked to save Alpha’s tooth and her MWD career. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Rhett Isbell)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --

Drilling through bone to reach the red, pulpy center amongst a chorus of short beeps, U.S. Air Force Capt. Bradley Phares, 19th Aerospace Medicine Squadron general dentist, executes a critical step in saving a military working dog’s life and career with the assistance of U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Johnny Cohnes, 19th AMDS NCO in charge of Little Rock Air Force Base veterinary clinic.

Phares and Cohnes performed a root canal in the veterinary clinic on Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, to restore military working dog, Alpha, to fighting form.

“We were doing bite demonstrations, and the decoy Airman said he saw a piece of her tooth fly out,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Clayvon Finch, 19th Security Forces Squadron military working dog handler. “I’m sure the dentists on base do root canals all the time … probably not on dogs, but I was confident they’d do a good job.”

With a portion of Alpha’s tooth broken off, the nerve was exposed and susceptible to infection. Left untreated this could lead to swelling and puss, bone loss, severe pain and eventually death. Refusing to let that happen, Finch took Alpha to the veterinary clinic on base to get her the help she needed.

“It varies, but this was definitely not an everyday thing,” Phares said. “The operation went perfectly, though.”

The dentists were able to execute the surgery so successfully due in part to the assistance of the U.S. Army members supporting and facilitating the operation for them.

“My role was to apply and monitor the anesthesia for the MWD,” Cohnes said. “We requested the Air Force dentists because they are the subject matter experts for the procedure, and it gives the two services a chance to work together and share their expertise with each other.”

Combining the skills and resources of the two sister services created a powerhouse of problem-solving potential designed to save Airmen injured in the line of duty.

“Having an infection can be life-threatening,” Phares said. “It’s good we were all able to work together and fix it.”

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