Best Defense

Rebecca’s War Dog of the Week: Will stem cells save Lex the sniffer dog?

By Rebecca Frankel Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent It was only a few years ago that Lex, a German Shepherd, was patrolling the streets of Fallujah sniffing out roadside bombs with his handler, 20 year old Corporal Dustin J. Lee. The two made quite a pair and were said to be inseparable. But during an attack ...

By Rebecca Frankel
Best Defense Chief Canine Correspondent

It was only a few years ago that Lex, a German Shepherd, was patrolling the streets of Fallujah sniffing out roadside bombs with his handler, 20 year old Corporal Dustin J. Lee. The two made quite a pair and were said to be inseparable. But during an attack on March 21, 2007 a rocket-propelled grenade killed Cpl. Lee. Lex sustained serious shrapnel wounds to his hindquarters including a piece still lodged in his spine.

Cpl.’s Lee’s family, knowing how much their son had cared for his canine partner, lobbied to adopt Lex. Getting Lex released into their custody, however, was no easy feat. Undeterred by military regulations, the family “launched an Internet petition and enlisted the aid of a North Caroline congressman…” and by December Lex was at home with the Lees in Mississippi. It was, apparently, the first time the military has “granted a dog early retirement to be adopted by someone other than a former handler.” Dustin’s father said he and his wife were only acting in their son’s stead. “He knew that we would take care of Lex and love him, just like our own.”

But once Lex arrived, there was no escaping the depth of his injuries — the nine-year-old dog could barely walk on his own.

Lex received treatment at Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, but to no avail. Serendipitously word reached Dr. Lee W. Morgan of Georgetown Veterinary Hospital in Washington, DC, a veterinarian who practices a “cutting-edge” (and expensive) stem cell treatment. But the ever-resourceful Lees raised funds and Dr. Morgan agreed to treat Rex for a reduced fee.

According to Dr. Morgan, Lex there were upwards of 50 pieces of shrapnel lodged in his back. “Showing [X-rays of Lex’s injuries] to the parents [was difficult], Dr. Morgan told the Georgetowner, “because this was the shrapnel that killed their son.”

Lex was flown up from Mississippi to have the surgery and subsequent treatments on November 16 and is reported to be doing well — his “kind, gentle demeanor” very much intact. Dr. Morgan’s success rate with other dogs with the stem-cell treatment is very high — seven out of the last nine he’s performed in the last year have been complete success. His owners have faith that Lex will make a full recovery:

When I saw [Lex] walking down the hall he wasn’t hopping or giving in as much, and I could tell [the treatment] has already started working,” [Mrs. Lee] said. “I feel that with physical therapy and the love that we’re giving him, as he’s a part of our family, it’s just gonna get better.”


In other war-dog news:
After a bit of custodial drama, Sabi, the Aussie dog who lost her way in Afghanistan, returned home to Australia this week where she’ll remain with her handler until her service is over.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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