By Kirstin Grace-Simons
Regional Health Command-Pacific
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, WA– According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2013, 4.5 million people in the U.S. were bitten by a dog. The CDC estimates that 20 percent of the bites were serious enough to require medical attention. Half of those bites were suffered by children under 18 years of age. Injury rates from dog bites are highest among children 5-9 years of age. That is why Maj. M. Todd French, an instructor with the First Year Graduate Veterinary Education (FYGVE) program with Public Health Command District–Joint Base Lewis McChord (PHCD–JBLM), Washington, has his sights set on the area’s first graders.
French figures first grade is the perfect time to get kids informed on how to deal with dogs in order to prevent bites. He also sees this program as a platform from which to teach and connect with the community.
Erin Frie’s class had a short period of classroom instruction from veterinarians French, Capt. Eliza Zamor, Capt. Judith Kovach, and Capt. Petra van Moorsel, all interns in the FYGVE program. French, with permission, uses material from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, his Master in Public Health alma mater, including a video with an animated mascot, Rufus. “It’s a slam-dunk program; kids love it,” French said.
Once the kids learned the basics, it was time to meet the dogs. Rhoda Granum is a parole officer at the base’s correctional facility. She is also a volunteer with Canine Companions for Independence, Puget Sound Chapter, and coordinates the companion animal training program at the facility. On a pleasant day in late April, she was the handler of two golden retriever-yellow lab mixes, Alex and Penne.
Granum and the vets helped the students review the strategies they had learned to approach or avoid dogs. They practiced their skills in avoiding any dog they do not know or may find aggressive. The kids ignored the dogs attempts at gaining their interest and also demonstrated the proper technique for approaching and petting a dog. The kids easily applied what they were taught. The veterinarians were clearly good teachers.
One Health – the interaction between humans, animals, and the environment – is a central focus of Army Public Health. “As veterinary corps officers, amongst our other duties, we strengthen the health of both [humans and animals] through promotion of the healing power of the human-animal bond.”
“I am fortunate enough to have the training to help FYGVE interns realize that full potential,” said French. “My ultimate job is to teach them the ways in which they can, and will impact public health, as veterinary corps officers. Community outreach for animal related issues is an easy way to accomplish this because, typically, everyone loves puppies and kittens and not very many people know that military veterinarians exist,” French continued.
It is ideal to take this program to the elementary school classroom, as the vets on JBLM are doing. It is, however, easy to offer this information in the clinic setting as well.
French offers, “There are several dog bite prevention programs that offer information online, but RUFUS literature can be downloaded for free from www.vet.utk.edu/dogbiteprevention.”
The tenets can also be easily added to discussions with both adults and kids when they bring their animals to the clinic. Through this program, others like it, and simple conversations in the clinic, Army veterinarians support their community through increased knowledge and awareness, and through the promotion of the beneficial human-animal bond.