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For base vets, dogs, cats and doughnuts are on the patient list

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

The sign-in sheet at the base veterinary office might be made up mostly of Fidos, Whiskers' and maybe a Rover or two, but as strange as it may sound, Krispy Kremes and Tropicana Orange Juice are on the list of exams to conduct.

Few realize the job of inspecting the food and the companies that supply food and drink to the base fall on the shoulders of our veterinarians. While it may at first be hard to make the connection, it isn't so difficult when you think about it, said Capt. Luis Lugo, chief of the veterinary unit, which operates under the 6th Medical Group.

"We have some agriculture training in our background," due to the association of animals and farms, said Lugo, and with a head start in the field, the vets receive additional training through the military to become certified food inspectors. MacDill is responsible for inspecting companies that provide food to the base and other military installations in central and southern Florida.

The task of covering locations other than MacDill means staffers from the office are traveling a good deal and that means the office can get caught short-handed at times. Three civilians, including two vets, help fill the gap, said Lugo. They augment five military staff members including Lugo, who is preparing to PCS after taking over the office in October 2001.

Much of what he wanted to accomplish while here has been achieved, said Lugo, but he regrets he will not be here to see the new clinic, which will be bigger and better and is in the final stages of approval.

Plans are for a larger facility behind the Commissary. It will have three exam rooms, a surgery suite and a dedicated lab area. Currently, one room fills all those roles.

"It's going to be so much better when they get it done," said Lugo of the new office. "We really needed to expand." Lugo is pleased to have overseen and directed the canine working dog kennel expansion, which has been approved for construction. He also implemented changes that allow the base office to perform routine surgeries.

While most of the support the office provides to pets and their owners, readiness in times of conflict is the most important role the vets play, said Lugo.

Checkups for military working dogs shipping out and returning are part of the support role they play when security forces canine handlers are deployed.

Vets themselves may be deployed to war zones where they care for these animals and fulfill their roles as food inspectors to ensure military personnel are getting safe supplies.

Other roles the vet unit plays include the rabies prevention program in which vaccine baits were distributed on base for the native raccoons and the observation of birds and recovery of dead birds for West Nile Virus testing.

Of course the day-to-day activities involve the care of the many pets for active and retired military. Shots, checkups, microchip implants and a range of other services make up the bulk of operations. The clinic can be reached at 828-3558.

"It's a big job here because of the size of the community on and off the base," said Lugo. "Serving retirees is a big part of what we do here." Lugo encourages pet owners to take advantage of the vet's services, especially the Saturday morning clinics that run every other month. He said getting veterinary care on base saves money, with prices about 25 percent less than private vets.




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