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Camp Zama veterinary medicine continues during COVID-19

Image of Two veterinary personnel wearing masks examine a dog. Army Cpl. Madison Green, and animal care specialist and Capt. (Dr.) Mary McLean, office in charge, both assigned to the Camp Zama Veterinary Treatment Facility examine Roxy, a shepherd mix. (Photo by Winifred Brown, Camp Zama, JAPAN)

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Staff at the Camp Zama Veterinary Treatment Facility in Japan have always worked diligently to gain the trust of their clients, and under recent COVID-19 restrictions, those efforts are paying off.

“I trust them,” said Carolina Chong, shortly after handing over her two dogs’ leashes to Army Cpl. Madison Green, an animal care specialist, so they could go in for their appointments without her.

The facility’s waiting and exam rooms are too small to accommodate proper social distancing under COVID-19 restrictions, so staff members check in pets at the curb and bring them in without their owners, said Army Capt. (Dr.) Mary McLean, veterinarian and officer in charge of the facility.

McLean said she understands why some owners may have reservations about separating from their pets, but the facility’s team does everything possible to make patients feel comfortable.

“We utilize low-stress handling techniques, have a wide variety of special treats to offer, and have been known to just sit on the floor and cuddle with a dog for a few minutes until we gain their trust,” McLean said.

Chong stated how she felt no anxiety letting Layla, an 8-year-old beagle, and Roxy, a 7-year-old shepherd mix, go in without her because they have been visiting the clinic for about a year, and have bonded with staff members.

“Layla absolutely loves it here,” Chong said. “She comes in and she tries to jump out of the car. They’ve just been great. You can tell that the staff really love the pets.”

McLean said the clinic has remained open throughout the pandemic, but for safety reasons, personnel made evolving adjustments to some services based on staff and equipment availability.

“When a majority of our staff was forced to work from home, we began offering telemedicine appointments when appropriate,” McLean said. “Because our patients can’t tell us what’s wrong, veterinarians rely heavily on a physical exam, so veterinary telemedicine may have more limitations than our human counterparts.”

The best way to accommodate physical exams was the curbside check-ins and pet-only visits inside the building, McLean said, and they have worked well.

The clinic is a part of Public Health Activity – Japan, which falls under Public Health Command – Pacific and Regional Health Command – Pacific, McLean said. The clinic’s primary mission is to provide full-service veterinary care to Military Working Dogs across all branches of the Department of Defense.

Usually, however, MWDs are a healthy population, so for the team to keep their veterinary skills sharp, the facility relies on military pet owners to trust them to care for their animals, McLean said.

“The more experience we can gain from treating a variety of ill animals, the better prepared we will be to care for our MWDs if they become sick or injured,” McLean said.

The facility offers a variety of services, including routine preventative care through annual exams and vaccinations, health certificate exams, quarantine exams, laboratory services, surgery, radiology, acupuncture and dental care, McLean said.

Three Soldiers and three civilians staff the facility, McLean said, and two staff members, including herself, are veterinarians. The other, Dr. Isao Yoshikawa, is a Japanese local national.

“Doctor Yoshikawa has been a huge help finding specialists to refer some of our patients to,” McLean said. “Most commonly we make referrals to oncologists for chemotherapy or radiation therapy, or cardiologists for an echocardiogram if a heart abnormality is heard.”

The team also includes military food inspectors who are responsible for ensuring a safe and wholesome food supply by performing inspections of food vendors, such as commissaries, child care centers and dining facilities, McLean said.

Located on Camp Zama, the staff also provides support to Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Sagami General Depot, Sagamihara Family Housing Area, and Camp Fuji, McLean explained.

“From the joys of a new puppy to a heartbreaking diagnosis, we have to be ready to help our clients through a variety of emotions,” McLean said. “Every day offers unique challenges, and I love watching the Soldiers and civilian staff work together as team to accomplish our unique mission.”

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