Contact: Karen Templeton
STARKVILLE, Miss.‚ÄĒWhen the retired war hero arrives for his physical rehabilitation session at the Mississippi State‚Äôs College of Veterinary Medicine, he typically draws an audience as he enjoys some welcoming treats.
Dog treats, that is.
A large, handsome German shepherd, Maci served as a military working dog for almost six years, including three tours in Afghanistan and one in Oman with his handler, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Karl Stefanowicz. During active service, he was credited with multiple explosive finds.
Maci now resides at Columbus Air Force Base with Stefanowicz and his wife. Like many former military dogs, he suffers from joint and muscle issues.
‚ÄúI was really interested in prolonging Maci‚Äôs life and most importantly, making it as comfortable as it could be,‚ÄĚ Stefanowicz said. A conversation he had last fall with Army Capt. Teri Vaughn led him to MSU and its veterinary students.
Dr. Vaughn, a Starkville native and MSU alumna, is a CVM graduate now serving as veterinary officer-in-charge at the Huntsville, Alabama-based Redstone Arsenal. CAFB is part of her area of responsibility.
Second-year CVM student Courtney M. Griffin of Starkville said she and other Class of 2018 members were interested in taking on a project. As class secretary and treasurer, she was familiar with charitable programs that support currently deployed military working dogs and their handlers, but was unaware of any with an emphasis on canine veterans.
After consulting with Vaughn, the MSU Vets for Vets organization was formed to, in part, raise money needed to cover expenses for the dogs‚Äô treatments.
‚ÄúOur class wanted to do something for our community and to improve animal health in some way,‚ÄĚ Griffin said. ‚ÄúVets for Vets is about taking care of our four-legged heroes.‚ÄĚ
Like Maci, most former service dogs with degenerative joint issues can benefit from regular physical therapy. At MSU‚Äôs veterinary college, treatment and rehabilitation involve a team approach.
Dr. Christine Bryan, assistant clinical professor and another MSU-CVM alumna, first conducts a thorough in-take exam, then works with veterinary technician Ruby Lynn Carter to begin the dogs‚Äô rehabilitation regimen.
In addition to observing the process as part of their academic training, the MSU veterinary students help with some of the treatments, including laser therapy.
‚ÄúOur goal is to get the dogs feeling better and improve their quality of life,‚ÄĚ Griffin said. ‚ÄúThe bonus is that we can learn about rehab through observing and assisting Ruby Lynn.‚ÄĚ
Treatment options include work on an aquatic treadmill and spending time in an Endless Pool.
According to Stefanowicz, the results are obvious, adding that ‚ÄúMaci is like a puppy again since starting the treatment.
‚ÄúI can see that he is better at managing his hip issues and he‚Äôs become more social and outgoing,‚ÄĚ he continued. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs great to get him out and watch him interact with people.‚ÄĚ
Stefanowicz also said Maci has become an ambassador for the university and its 41-year-old veterinary college.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs got a team at MSU taking care of him,‚ÄĚ he said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs even had meet-and-greets with the mascot, Bully. He‚Äôs kind of like our base‚Äôs connection to the college.‚ÄĚ
Because of alumna Vaughn, CAFB Tech. Sgt. Dustin Weeks also has a dog in the program.
Iva, also a German shepherd, is a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan and one each in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. After many duty walks over difficult terrain, combined with the normal aging process, she now has arthritis in the hips.
Since Vaughn introduced Weeks to the Vets for Vets program, Iva has been a regular patient.
‚ÄúThis is absolutely a great program,‚ÄĚ Weeks said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôve never seen anything like this in my work with canines. I‚Äôm glad we have access to it and I hope that it can grow so others in the area, and even the nation can benefit.‚ÄĚ
In addition to fund-raising activities and treatment assistance, Griffin said she and her classmates spend considerable time working to increase awareness about the program and solicit additional clients.
‚ÄúThe best part of all of this is giving back to these dogs,‚ÄĚ Griffin said. ‚ÄúThey have done something so brave and kind for us as part of our military, that the least we can do is make their lives more comfortable.‚ÄĚ
For more about enrolling a dog in the retired military dog treatment program or to make a donation to the program, contact Karen Templeton at 662-325-1100 or email@example.com.
MSU, Mississippi‚Äôs flagship research university, is online at www.msstate.edu.