By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent
When it comes to the on-the-job dangers MWDs and their handlers face on the frontlines from IEDs, Taliban sniper fire, it's easy to forget that some of the most lethal hazards are not the far-away extremes of combat zones, but much closer to home. For Dingo, a five-year-old Marine Corps working dog, the lethal enemy that almost got the better of him was a snake hiding in the grass of his own backyard.
It was an unseasonably warm afternoon in early December. Handler Cpl. Stacy K. Chester and were running training drills along the edge of the woods in Cherry Point, NC when Chester noticed a red mark on the German Shepherd's leg.
"When I saw the swelling begin to rush up Dingo's leg and I knew it was a snake bite, I thought the worst," said Chester.
The veterinarian at the air station quickly determined that Dingo had suffered two punctures and the rapid swelling told him that there was a great and lethal amount of venom in Dingo's system. Chester quickly called around but no antivenin could be found -- the nearest supply that they could find was in Norfolk, VA hundreds of miles away and the window of opportunity for treatment was closing fast.
When the higher-ups at the station heard of Dingo's dire situation word from top came through: "Do whatever it takes to get that dog treatment." The search and rescue team was contacted and they transported Dingo to the Norfolk naval station, saving his life. "If we had to drive him to get the antivenin I wouldn't have Dingo here with me right now," Chester said. "They saved my best friend."
There are a few things we can takeaway from Dingo's brush with death. For the vet clinic at Cherry point, it's knowing where the locations of local antivenin (which they now do). But for the rest of us it's knowing that among these teams there is an immediate call to action - that they do rally around their working dogs. There was no hemming and hawing over resources, no measuring of value. According to the pilot who flew Dingo to Norfolk, they were just saving one of their own.
My first thoughts when briefed by our operations section was, 'Wait a dog?' After being told that it was a working dog I said, 'Hey we have a Marine bitten, let's get moving.' Those dogs are just as important to this base as the Marines. They protect us and detect bombs that could kill hundreds of Marines. I was happy to fly him."
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.