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NEWS | Oct. 28, 2020

Alma learns to walk again: Army, Navy join forces to help working dog heal

By Petty Officer 2nd Class Geoffrey Barham

“Sit!” yells Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Angelow, a military working dog handler, to his dog Alma, a patrol explosive detector dog onboard Commander, Fleet Activities Sasebo.

MWD Alma returned to duty in early May following an injury, when she tore seven of eight flexor tendons in her right hind leg; she is the first MWD to return to service following such an injury. On Oct. 14, Alma initiated her first bite training since returning to duty onboard CFAS.

“It’s different and a bit of a challenge,” said Angelow, who became Alma’s handler in early August.

Alma’s injury happened during training on April 3 when her foot became caught on the ground and was contorted. Her handler at the time, Petty Officer 1st Class Eric Schroeder, applied pressure to the open wound and immediately rushed Alma to the veterinary clinic.

From the clinic, Alma was driven to Iwakuni, Japan, and then flown to Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, on an emergency medical evacuation.

Army veterinarian Dr. (Maj.) Shane Andrews, chief of Public Health Activity-Japan's veterinary services branch on Okinawa, performed reconstructive surgery on Alma. Andrews fitted Alma with a custom-fit orthotic device made of hardened plastic, with bike tire tread underneath, to provide traction.

Alma returned to Sasebo on May 2, where Schroeder and other MWD personnel began her rehabilitation.

Angelow works with Alma in both rehabilitation and retraining to get her back to her previous form. Angelow said he utilizes exercises in the pool for aquatic therapy, ankle weights, and basic walking on different surfaces for varying lengths of time.

Alma does daily obedience and explosive detection training accompanied by regular patrol and bite work, Angelow said.

“She still is limited in a lot of ways,” said Angelow. “There are some things we can’t do, like how we can’t walk her off the leash because we do not want her to make any sudden jerks or movements that will aggravate the injury further.”

Angelow said Alma is medically listed as category one, which means she is fully deployable, but there are still limitations while working on her rehabilitation. Angelow said Alma will return to full form, but it will take time and a lot of hard work.

Alma is Angelow’s first dog since finishing the Military Working Dog Handlers Course at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, prior to arriving at Sasebo; he served as a master-at-arms for seven years before becoming a MWD handler.

The CFAS MWD team is looking to buy a second orthotic boot as a backup for Alma and she rejoins seven other MWDs at the CFAS kennel.

According to OPNAVINST 5585.2C, MWDs’ capabilities are used by naval security forces to defend bases and resources and to assist with enforcing military laws and regulations. They supplement and enhance the capabilities of military security forces and enable those forces to perform their mission more effectively and, in many cases, with significant savings in manpower, time and money.

CFAS enables 14 forward-deployed Naval forces and 48 tenant commands across 12 geographic locations, supporting a community of 7,400 Sailors, civilians, and family members. It has received awards for Safety, Environmental, Zumwalt Lodging, Golden Anchor, Food Service, and the Region Japan Installation Excellence Award in 2016, 2018, and 2019.

Public Health Activity-Japan is part of Public Health Command-Pacific, a direct-reporting unit of Regional Health Command-Pacific, the Army's most geographically dispersed medical command. RHC-P, headquartered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., and Honolulu, stretches more than 5,000 miles across five time zones, and includes medical, dental, public health, and veterinary units located in Alaska, California, Hawaii, Japan, Korea, and Washington state.