Offutt dog handler gets valuable training during his MWD’s surgery

  • Published
  • By D.P. Heard, 55th Wing Public Affairs

While deployed in Kuwait in May with his military working dog (MWD), Staff Sgt. Steven Ramirez of the 55th Wing Security Forces Squadron felt a lump on his dog’s torso. Lumen, a 7-year-old bomb-sniffing dog, didn’t appear to be in any physical pain but Ramirez took him to see the veterinarian for an examination.

After running a biopsy, the vet determined that Ramirez should monitor Lumen until they returned to Offutt Air Force Base. Army Capt. Christina Novak, a veterinarian at Offutt’s Veterinary Treatment Facility, determined that even though it was not causing any pain or discomfort, she would need to do minor surgery to remove the mass and do a more in-depth examination on it. 

Army Sgt. Yritza Sussjimenez, noncommissioned officer in charge of the VTF, was instrumental in preparing the surgery room and surgical instruments and assisting Novak with the procedure.  

“I like to train my dog handlers to be proficient in first aid in the field and at home,” said Sussjimenez. “That way they know what needs to be done for the dogs.”

Ramirez received training in the form of preparing his dog for the surgery and accompanying the dog throughout the procedure. He monitored the dog’s blood pressure, shaved his paw, and inserted a catheter into his leg.

“The hardest part was putting the catheter into Lumen’s leg,” said Ramirez. “I didn’t want to hurt him any more than he was hurting or cause damage to his veins.”

Service members and the dogs they work with develop relationships that go far beyond deployments and other duties. Ramirez has been Lumen’s trainer for about a year.

“As a handler, you get close to your dog. Bonds develop between dogs and their handlers,” said Ramirez.

Ramirez was with Lumen and Sussjimenez for the entire preparation, surgery and recovery process. He was asked random questions regarding triage and other procedures during the surgery.

Lumen’s surgery was performed Oct. 26, 2021, at the Offutt VTF without incident. The mass that was removed from his abdomen was sent to a lab for examination. He spent about two weeks recovering and returned to active duty afterwards.

Army veterinarians care for all MWDs. Novak’s job is to keep Offutt’s dogs as healthy and strong as possible so that they can do their jobs. The vet clinic keeps the dogs up to date on all prevention medicines, such as flea, tick and heart medicines.

“Soldiers can bring their pets in to the clinic for treatment at a reduced rate,” said Novak.  “The best part of the job is working with these dogs. It’s awesome!”