The officer in charge of the veterinary treatment facility does his best for all four-legged patients who come through his doors.
But Captain Tim Beck said there was a special place in his heart for military working dogs.
Beck, who recently served a temporary assignment at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, joined the military through the Medical Professionals Scholarship Program in 2017.
In addition to the usual duties of a veterinarian, Beck is the healthcare provider for some of the nation’s most loyal patriots: military working dogs.
Several qualities set them apart from other dogs, he said.
“The most unique thing about dealing with working dogs is that almost all of them are patrol trained, also called ‘bite trained,'” Beck said, “We don’t interact with them in our clinic without a muzzle.”
But that’s because their instinct when they’re in pain is to bite. “Ninety-seven percent of my working dogs are cuddly dogs,” he said.
In fact, the only time Beck was bitten by a working dog, he was wearing a “bite suit” and it was “on purpose”.
“I’ve never been bitten in a clinic,” he said.
Redstone working dogs are “incredibly fit,” requiring them to eat a high calorie diet, typically 500 calories per cup, compared to typical dog food which is 400 to 450 calories per cup. And some military working dogs eat up to eight cups of food a day – but they get by.
“I always compare them to professional athletes,” Beck said.
He sees army working dogs at least once a month for the “punctual day”, when he checks their weight and body condition, inspects their kennels, and provides monthly medication for heartworm prevention, fleas and ticks.
Twice a year, he conducts a semi-annual physical examination of the dogs. During one, he draws blood for a full workup; during the other, he decides if they might need more blood work.
Sometimes, Beck said, veterinarians take information from dog handlers and interpret it with their own observations to assess an animal’s health.
“Dog handlers have an incredibly strong bond (with dogs),” he said, recalling an incident while on a temporary assignment in Turkey when a dog handler told him that his dog “amusingly licked his lips”.
On a hunch, Beck took an X-ray and found that the dog’s stomach was bloated and filled with air, which can happen when it’s hot and a dog drinks water too quickly.
This condition can lead to GDV, gastric dilatation-volvulus, and is more common in large and giant breed dogs. This is essential because the stomach can turn, trapping gas inside the stomach and threatening the dog’s life. (In this case, the dog fortunately only suffered from “bloat”.)
Most military working dogs now undergo a simple procedure where their stomachs are “picked” or pinned to prevent GDV, Beck said.
K-9 Branch Kennel Master Captain Sean Lulofs has been training dogs for over 29 years and credits excellent veterinary care to their overall good conditioning.
Lulofs would not reveal the number of working dogs at Arsenal, but said they were usually Belgian Malinois or German Shepherds. “I also have a Dutch Shepherd,” he said.
All dogs are trained to apprehend subjects. Some also detect explosives and some also detect narcotics.
Arsenal working dogs carry out explosive searches when VIPs visit Arsenal, and during random counter-terrorism measures, Lulofs said, adding that there is a working dog at one of Redstone’s gates every day to perform random searches.
The dogs and their handlers are also called upon to perform K-9 police patrols elsewhere in the country for the US Secret Service and the State Department, including certain events involving the President or Vice President.
Redstone’s dog handlers and vet work together to keep the dogs in top shape, because you never know who will need their services next.
A graduate of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., Beck graduated from Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine and “owed” three years of military service. He completed a year-long internship at a major clinic in Fort Hood, Texas, and came to Arsenal in 2018.
The following year, he was posted to the Incirlik base in Turkey for a year, where he cared for military working dogs. He returned to Redstone in September 2020.
In Redstone, Beck is in charge of a team of six soldiers and three civilians at the veterinary clinic. He also travels regularly to Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi to tend to military working dogs.
He and his wife Anna, director of communications and special projects at the Huntsville Botanical Garden, have two cats, Atlas and Hercules.