June 22, 2020
If you have pets on Okinawa or if you are a Military Working Dog (MWD) Handler, Army, Marine Corps, Navy, or Air Force, you are likely very familiar with the U.S. Army Vet clinic here.
The Army is the only branch of the military which provides veterinary services.
“We actually provide medical care for military working dogs (MWD) for all the branches,” said Sgt. Carlos Torres, a veterinary technician at the clinic. “We do see personal animals as well, not just MWDs. We do everything from vaccines to sick call appointments, to major surgeries like knee repairs or internal surgery. We also inspect animals at the high school or Child Development Centers just to make sure they are not carrying any transmissible diseases. In addition, our team plays a large role in food safety on island and inspects food establishments all over the island.”
Accomplishing all this in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has presented some challenges.
“COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the mission,” Torres said. “We are still caring for MWDs, they are Soldiers and they get the same treatment as we would. Any kind of treatment they need, any time of the day, weekends, we are here to see them. As far as our other services, everything has been pretty much halted. Currently we are only doing health certificates for patients that are flying off island. There are still some people that are PCSing, or retirees that have to leave island.”
Staffing at the clinic normally consists of a mix of Soldiers, local national employees and about 20 DA civilians, but again the pandemic changed that. Once the restrictions and increased Health Protection Conditions were set, it became just the Soldiers and MLC employees
“When this started we went down to six Soldiers,” Torres said. “Now the restrictions are starting to ease up a little bit, so a few of the NAF (Non-Appropriated Fund) employees are working in the front of the clinic; but initially to keep the risk down everyone stayed home.”
The clinic introduced tele-health appointments for quarantine exams and select sick calls. Doctors are able to interact with clients and patients over video to help accommodate patients who could not come into the clinic. These are not as effective as face to face appointments but are helping serve the community during COVID.
“With the COVID-19, we appreciate everybody being so patient. A lot of people have had to go out into town for care. We definitely want to say thank you to all our clients and patients for understanding it’s out of our hands. We’re doing the best we can because they deserve that.
“One bright spot as PCS season heats back up is our availability of health certificate appointments. The restrictions on routine pet visits means a larger percentage of health certificate availability. This should make it easier for pet owners to get appointments for health certificates as they PCS.”
There are some things that people can do to help make the pet portion of their PCS move easier.
“We have a lot of our information posted on our Facebook page, and you can message us there as well said Torres. “Our phone lines are always available for anyone who has questions about PCSing. We definitely ask that as soon as you know that you are PCSing that they contact us and we’ll give them all the information that they need.
“The phones do get very busy so it can be hard to get through, but we check our email account daily. We have instructional memos and PCS ‘good to know’ information, that we hand out as well.”
As the military staff here are Soldiers, they show a lot of dedication to taking care of the 4-legged Soldiers who are their primary mission.
“For us in uniform, the most interesting part of working here is taking care of the Military Working Dogs, Torres confirmed. “You know a lot of the time you see the handler and dog waking around, and people would like to pet the dog and of course you can’t. But when they come in here you can see you can see what awesome canines they are, so well trained and so easy to work with. The handlers tell them to sit and they just stay there so we can do our checks. The MWDs and the handlers, working with them is just an awesome experience.”
But while enjoyable, being the only military veterinary clinic on the island has its drawbacks.
“The hardest part of being here, specifically here in Okinawa, is the workload,” he explained. “We have about 15,000 patients. We have about 65 working dogs as well, so that workload is very tough. But everyone that works here, we definitely look out for each other. We get the job done but it can get little hectic.”
You can contact the clinic by dialing DSN phone on island.
The Okinawa Veterinary Activity, part of the Army Medical Command’s Army Public Health Center, provides exceptional quality of life to Military Working Dogs and privately owned pets through compassionate medical and preventative care as a full service veterinary clinic. We are dedicated to outstanding customer service and client education with the help of military, civilian, and local national employees.