Paw-ntastic! PCG veterinarian shares heroics of ‘working dogs’

Published May 30, 2021, 11:23 AM

by Richa Noriega

Heroes in this modern time may come in different forms – soldiers and law enforcers who protect the people or civilians who help others who are in need. However, heroes can be four-legged canines, too.

Working dogs in the military, armed service, or guide dogs that dedicate their lives for a good cause are considered “heroes” by a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) veterinarian.

Captain Famela Alejandro-Aspuria, PCG’s first female veterinarian and commanding officer of the Coast Gard Veterinary Office, shared to the Manila Bulletin the hardworking journey of the Coast Guard working dogs (CGWDs) and their handlers under the care of the humanitarian armed service.

K9 Teams on duty at MRT (Photo courtesy of Captain Famela Alejandro-Aspuria)
K9 Teams on duty at MRT (Photo courtesy of Captain Famela Alejandro-Aspuria)

Alejandro-Aspuria, in an interview with the Manila Bulletin, said the Coast Guard K9 Force was not very selective on which dog breeds to train.

However, after careful observation of K9 instructors, they found out that four breeds of dog were favored because of their capability: the Belgian Malinois, Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, and Jack Russell Terrier.

The PCG veterinarian pointed out that these dog breeds have the potential to be trained in every capability and specialization.

“In every breed, we have explosive detection dog, narcotics detection dog, and search and rescue detection dog. So, all of these breeds can accompany K9 missions or dispatch, be it bomb threat, buy-bust, or search and rescue missions, depending on their specialization,” Alejandro-Aspuria said.

The CGWDs undergo a series of training composed of different phases which include bonding, socialization, introduction to search and substance, printing, scent discrimination, and safety measures.

These CGWDs will stay in the training centers until the completion of their training and will be deployed to the different ports nationwide. The Coast Guard K9 Force will be responsible for the monitoring of the deployment of all working dogs.

A K9 Handler and her CGWD conducted paneling inside a cell at BJMP. (Photo courtesy of Captain Famela Alejandro-Aspuria)
A K9 Handler and his CGWD conducted paneling at North Harbor Pier. (Photo courtesy of Captain Famela Alejandro-Aspuria)

The dogs train together with their handler and after each phase, they undergo evaluation in a form of a simulation search.

The PCG veterinarian said it took more or less a year for the Coast Guard K9 service to produce a fully trained working dog and handler.

“But their training does not really end upon graduation, even when they are already deployed in the different CGK9 Field Operating Units, their handlers conduct regular refresher training to maintain the efficiency of these working dogs,” Alejandro-Aspuria said.

Working bond

During their trainings, the handler and the working dog must always undergo physical development drills to fully understand their body movement and behavior.

The veterinarian said along with the balanced diet and supplements, the working dogs are also subjected to daily exercise such as walking and running in order to develop endurance.

A K9 Handler with his CGWD doing a refresher training. (Photo courtesy of Captain Famela Alejandro-Aspuria)

“As trainees and even when we graduated and become handlers, we always make sure that we spend enough time walking or running and playing together with our buddy. This is to develop endurance not just for the handler but for the working dogs as well,” she said.

“It is not important if our buddy is a large breed or small breed type. What is important is that you two (handler and the dog) work together as a K9 team and can perform your duties as such. The handler also keeps himself or herself physically fit to be able to keep up with the dog,” she said.

Alejandro-Aspuria said that maintaining control of the working dog at all times in public places will avoid unforeseen circumstances including biting incidents.

“The safety measures we need to follow up depends on the capability of your working dog, as much as possible we don’t allow our dog to be touched by anyone when they are working since it will cause distraction and some dogs may sense the person as a threat causing them to bite,” she added.

Preventive measures

Despite the heartwarming care and careful observation, the four-legged heroes are constantly exposed to stressful situations as they perform duties that weaken their immune systems and make them susceptible to all kinds of diseases.

A K9 Handler with his CGWD doing a refresher training. (Photo courtesy of Captain Famela Alejandro-Aspuria)

“Last year, we have encountered cases of blood parasitism, skin problem, and leptospirosis with our working dogs. Fortunately, we are successful with our treatment regimen. And with regards to our Coast Guard working dogs, limping and skin problems are the most common problems we’ve encountered,” she said.

The veterinarian advised pet owners not to disregard the presence of parasites, especially when there is minimal infestation.

“It is also important to have your pets vaccinated with the core vaccines. This will not only protect your pets but also minimize the occurrence of infectious disease outbreak within the community,” Alejandro-Aspuria said.

After their service to the country, the retired Coast Guard working dogs will be taken care of by the personnel of Coast Guard Veterinary Service while some will be up for adoption.

“To all pet owners, always love your buddies (be it dog, a cat, or any pet). Give them the right care and attention they need. Treat them humanely and always understand their personality and behavior,” the veterinarian said.