The officer in charge of the Veterinary Treatment Facility does his best for all of the four-legged patients that come through his doors.
But Capt. Tim Beck said there is a special place in his heart for the military working dogs.
Beck, recently serving a temporary assignment at Naval Station Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, joined the Army as part of the health professional scholarship program in 2017.
In addition to the usual duties of a vet, Beck is the health provider for some of the country’s most loyal patriots: military working dogs.
Several qualities set them apart from other dogs, he said.
“The most unique thing about treating working dogs is almost all of them are trained in patrol, also known as “bite-trained,” Beck said. “We don’t interact with them in our clinic without a muzzle.”
But that’s because their instinct when they are in pain is to bite. “Ninety-seven percent of my working dogs are cuddle 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 have never been bit in a clinic,” he said.
Redstone’s working dogs are “incredibly fit,” requiring them to be on a high-calorie diet, typically 500 calories per cup, compared to typical dog food that is 400 to 450 calories per cup. And some military working dogs eat as much as eight cups of food a day – but they work it off.
“I always compare them to professional athletes,” Beck said.
He sees the military working dogs at least once a month for “spot day,” when he checks their weight and body condition, inspects their kennels, and provides monthly medicine for heartworm, flea and tick prevention.
Twice a year, he conducts a semiannual physical exam on the dogs. During one, he draws blood for a complete workup; during the other, he decides if they might need more bloodwork.
At times, Beck said, veterinarians take information from the dog handlers and interpret it along with their own observations to assess an animal’s health.
“The handlers have an incredibly strong bond (with the dogs),” he said, recalling an incident during a temporary assignment in Turkey when a handler told him his dog was “licking his lips funny.”
On a hunch, Beck took an X-ray and found that the dog’s stomach was bloated and filled with air, which can occur when it’s hot and a dog drinks water too fast.
That condition can lead to GDV, gastric dilatation-volvulus, and is more common in large and giant breed dogs. It’s critical because the stomach can rotate, trapping gas inside the stomach, and threatening the dog’s life. (In this instance, the dog was fortunately just suffering from “bloat.”)
Most military working dogs now undergo a simple procedure where their stomachs are “pexied,” or pinned to avoid GDV, Beck said.
Capt. Sean Lulofs, kennel master of the K-9 Branch, has been training dogs for over 29 years, and credits excellent veterinary care for their overall good conditioning.
Lulofs doesn’t want to reveal the number of working dogs at the Arsenal, but said they are usually Belgian Malinois or German shepherds. “I also have a Dutch shepherd,” he said.
All of the dogs are trained to apprehend subjects. Some also detect explosives and others also detect narcotics.
The Arsenal’s working dogs perform explosive searches when VIPs visit the Arsenal, and during random antiterrorism measures, Lulofs said, adding that there is a working dog at one of Redstone’s gates every day to conduct random searches.
The dogs and their handlers are also called upon to do K-9 police patrol work elsewhere in the country for the U.S. Secret Service and Department of State, including some events involving the president or vice president.
The Redstone handlers and veterinarian work together to keep the dogs in top shape, because you never know who’s going to need their services next.
A graduate of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, Beck graduated from the Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine and “owed” the military three years of service. He did a one-year internship at a large clinic at Fort Hood, Texas, and came to the Arsenal in 2018.
The following year, he was assigned to a year at Incirlik Base in Turkey, where he treated the military working dogs. He returned to Redstone in September 2020.
At 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 care for military working dogs there.
He and his wife Anna, director of communications and special projects at the Huntsville Botanical Garden, have two cats, Atlas and Hercules.